Category: Action/Adventure

Manu by Anna Hackett

Manu by Anna HackettManu Series: Hell Squad #16
Published by Anna Hackett on May 6th 2018
Pages: 138
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four-stars

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

When former berserker Manu Rahia lost his leg on a mission, he was forced to leave his squad. He knows his new role as head of the Enclave’s firing range and armory is important, but hates that he isn’t still out there fighting face to face against the aliens and protecting his brothers’ backs. But then one woman catches his eye. A no-nonsense woman dedicated to her job as head of security. A woman who seems cool on the surface, but who Manu is convinced is hiding more under her business-like exterior.

Captain Kate Scott dedicated her life to her career in the Army. Now she works hard taking care of security for the Enclave and its residents. She learned a long time ago that she isn’t a passionate woman, and that she’s better off sticking to her work. But seeing one big, bronze-skinned, muscled man at the range every day has her hormones going into overdrive. She’s never felt like this and she’s determined to get herself under control.

But when the aliens launch a viscous new attack, right on the Enclave’s doorstep, Kate and Manu must join forces to stop the raptors before more people get hurt. Kate will fight fiercely to protect her team and the base, as well as her heart. But Manu Rahia is a man who knows what he wants, will walk through fire to get it, and what he wants is Kate.

Hell Squad’s into its 16th installment and going strong as Anna Hackett makes her way through the squads defending earth that has gone under in an alien apocalypse.

Here, Hackett pairs the eldest of the Rahia brothers—these brothers have been making way too many waves even when they’re secondary characters in the rest of the books—with a no-nonsense former Army captain and it’s a romance that’s unusual in several aspects: an older hero/heroine, with the former whom I’d never thought would actually get his own book.

Apart from the quick attraction between Manu and Kate and their even quicker slide into instalove, I did like ‘Manu’ for the return to this particular world of the Gizzida and the continuing fight against them, as Hackett invents newer and newer threats which are barely countered by the end of the book. The numerous action scenes are engaging (mind-boggling even, considering the length of the novella), the sex scenes scorching and the HEA that happens at the end just reaffirms that there’s more to come, just not so soon, sadly.

four-stars

Cyborg by Anna Hackett

Cyborg by Anna HackettCyborg by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #9
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Pages: 156
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three-stars

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

In Anna Hackett’s Gladiator universe, it feels as though anything is possible. And that much frees the narrative to range from far-flung sand-dune adventures to ancient Rome-type fighting for sport and commerce.

With a stoic, near-emotionless cybernetically-enhanced guy suddenly thrust into the emotionally-laden sphere of impending childbirth with a woman he’d apparently been kidnapped with, I felt a little lost at sea here after the sudden shift in focus from the House of Galen to the House of Rone—like I’d been thrust into a backstory that I had no clue about at all, only for it to have been narrated almost as a throwaway line.

Nonetheless, ‘Cyborg’ feels like the book that’s leading us to the edge of some precipice that Hackett hasn’t yet thrown us over…as though it’s the penultimate book of a series that has mainly dealt with the systematic rescue of more earth women from unscrupulous traders and aliens, as the House of Galen and the House of Rone fight to dismantle illegal fighting rings and stop the kidnappings. Magnus Rone’s book continues this similar storyline with a different couple so it did seem a bit repetitive for me, though it’s always great fun each time to read the new things Hackett comes up with when the action scenes finally roll around.

The slight bit of a cliffhanger here is an excellent hook for the next book, though Hackett’s fans would barely need it at this point in time.

 

three-stars

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

Starry Eyes by Jenn BennettStarry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon Pulse on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 432
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four-stars

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

Sometimes it takes a lot more cajoling to get me on the side of NA/YA fiction and I’ll readily admit that much of it has to do with my increasing difficulty in connecting with characters that I probably would have vociferously sympathised with when I was younger but now itch to smack. Needless to say, ‘Starry Eyes’ started out rocky, unbearable almost because of the eye-rolling teenage angst and drama (the type that makes you want to pick up alcohol even if you don’t drink) and I seriously questioned if this was going to be a book that I was going to finish.

But once the teen shenanigans ended, it seemed as though ‘Starry Eyes’ took off, compelling enough in the whole backcountry adventure (aided loads by a cool, knowledgeable protagonist) and the dangers that awaited both Zorie and Lennon that I couldn’t put it down. There’s still the whole vibe of unresolved teenage angst via the stupidity of miscommunication, or rather, the lack thereof, but it’s entwined now with the mistakes of adults and the learning journey—the sort that you apparently take into adulthood—that’s inevitably always built into YA/NA books.

Thankfully though, there’s no heavy moralistic message that raises the hairs on the back of my neck and I could easily sail through the last and rather exciting half of the book as the pieces laid out early in it start to fall horribly into place in a climax and resolution that left me satisfied.

‘Starry Eyes’ isn’t quite what I expected—I’m quite happy to say this now—but it’s a read that I can’t forget, many hours later after finishing it despite the awful start I had.

four-stars

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