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Cover Fire by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 9th June 2017
Cover Fire by Jess AnastasiCover Fire by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #3
Published by Entangled Publishing, Entangled: Select Otherworld on June 19th 2017
Pages: 267
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four-stars

He'll protect her with his life...but who will protect his heart?

If the assignment is crazy, dangerous, or a little of both, Sub-Lieutenant Sebastian Rayne can’t help but take on the challenge. So when Command Intelligence tags him to fly one of their agents behind enemy lines, it seems like just another routine death-defying mission. Crash landing on the planet was a piece of cake, but the gorgeous agent he delivered safely to her meeting is now believed dead and he must return to retrieve her body.

After Agent Jenna Maxwell realizes her own people attempted to have her killed, she enlists the hot stick jockey’s help. His new mission? Sneak her back onto his ship to ferret out who wanted to get rid of her and why. But she fears her growing feelings for Seb have blinded her to his reckless insistence on helping her stay alive, and his rash behavior will cause them both to lose their lives.

Coming back to the Valiant Knox series is like peeking back into the lives of old friends through a small, open doorway. But it’s also plain fun to see how some of the loveable heroes of the fighter pilot force go down, sometimes literally, then wonder, how the hell they’d been so dumb to get themselves into such situations.

‘Cover Fire’ is one of those reads, as cocksure, flirty, impulsive but honourable-at-his-core fighter pilot Sebastian Rayne meets more than his match in intelligence officer Jenna Maxwell, never once believing that it would bring him down one of the most reckless paths he’s ever been down yet. But since he’s no stranger to going balls-deep into danger and finding every experience exhilarating, what’s one more hole in his belt to get that adrenaline going?

By and large, it has been a fun ride. It was amusing too, to see Seb lurching from disaster to disaster with nothing but wits (that fail at times) and reckless impulse, all of which ends badly for him when most situations call for skills he doesn’t have outside that of being a fighter pilot. And it’s a refreshing change as well to have Jenna as the competent one, or at least as the cool spy who knows what’s she doing more than Seb. The romance did seem a little rushed for me, and their penchant for having sex in inappropriate places and at inopportune times—in a cramped cargo hold of a ship, or while barely recovering from a bad injury— left me more incredulous than turned-on as I wondered how the hell Seb really got it up while injured and in pain.

Superman-tendencies aside, Seb and Jenna proved somehow that desire can trump pain and injury as they get their happy ending for now and a promotion to boot. I only wished we saw more of the crew working together instead of Seb/Jenna vs. the rest of them, but that’s merely a minor quibble as I’d always loved the team dynamics in the Valiant Knox anyway.

There’s such a strong visual element in Jess Anastasi’s writing such that reading every book of hers is akin to watching a novelisation of a fast-paced tv episode that’s a combination of a space opera and a summer blockbuster. And it rings every bell that I have and for most part, the action, intrigue and romance make me a happy camper by the end of it.

four-stars

Hemi by Anna Hackett

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 7th June 2017
Hemi by Anna HackettHemi by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #13
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett on May 30th 2017
Pages: 115
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three-stars

In the middle of an alien invasion, a big, tough, tattooed former mercenary is finally going to chase down his woman.

Camryn McNab knows love is a lie. Okay, maybe not for everybody--her fellow soldiers on Squad Nine have managed to fall in love in the middle of a vicious alien attack. But it's not for her. She comes from two people incapable of love. For now, her life is about survival, fighting to protect others, and kicking some alien raptor butt. What she doesn't need is a certain wild, bearded, tattoo-covered soldier always underfoot, messing with her things, and driving her crazy. But no matter how hard she tries to outrun Hemi Rahia, she can't seem to shake him, and a terrified part of doesn't even want to...

A member of the Squad Three berserkers, Hemi knows his squad has a reputation for not following the rules and being a little wild. Former bikers, mercenaries, and...other less savory things, they fight hard and party harder. But Hemi has known for a while now that there is only one woman for him. One courageous, sexy, attitude-filled woman he wants to claim as his own. But he has to catch her first.

Tasked with a top-secret mission deep in alien creeper territory, Hemi and Cam will fight side-by-side to achieve their dangerous goal. Their chemistry is off the charts, but persistent Hemi wants more than Cam's body...he wants her heart and soul as well. As their battle with the aliens turns deadly, they will have to fight not only for their love, but for their very survival.

‘Hemi’ officially ushers in the Berserker squad and I’m glad we’ve come a way with this particular group of wild and rough-riding people. When they first appeared, they seemed to be a bunch of hairy things closer to grunting apes than humans who rode souped-up motorcycles that were used as mini-weapon-launching platforms to combat the aliens; which is sort of cool, but probably not quite the swashbuckling type of heroes I could envision. But Anna Hackett’s development of the squad is quite remarkable and I’ve come, over time, to see them fleshed out as individuals with even rougher and questionable pasts that are erased when the alien apocalypse happens.

Hemi Rahia’s and Camryn McNab’s story has been building for a while and make no mistake, that tension there beneath the pranks finally comes to fruition here. For every couple that Hackett focuses on, there is also a new, vile alien development that is specific to their getting together and it’s no different here. Hemi’s determination to win over Cam is as strong as her need to run away from him and this push-pull finally gives when forces bigger than them (read: disgusting alien parts that act as incubators) eventually show that couple disputes are more petty in the light of the fact that dying can happen any time. In the spirit of carpe diem, the action and the way the characters throw themselves into the fray, is fun with many shades of wild, rodeo-riding antics and good partying times.

As much as I enjoyed how fast-paced the action is, I thought that there’s also a bit more focus on Hemi/Cam’s personal drama here with several repetitive—and perhaps sweeping—lines about how men and women pretty much were into casual sex as a sign of the times, up until the point where they find the one they’re ‘meant’ for. While I did like Hemi/Cam and every little alien discovery the teams make, I think I would also have liked to see more of the big-picture, or at least some reference to a larger story arc that would show how war with the aliens is progressing and if there is an end (or some kind of HEA wrap-up for all involved), no matter how distant, in sight.

three-stars

Theron by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance/ Urban Fantasy 5th May 2017
Theron by Anna HackettTheron by Anna Hackett
Series: Hell Squad #12
Published by Anna Hackett on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 130
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four-stars

Squad mates, best friends, and fighting to survive in the middle of an alien invasion. Can she make one stubborn alpha male soldier see her as something else?

Sienna Rossi has always been a mix of contradictions. She loves ice cream, likes cooking, and is skilled at taking down aliens with her squad. Sweet and tough, soldier and woman, most people can't seem to make sense of her...even the loving family she lost in the invasion and especially men. One man accepts her as she is, her best friend Theron. But the big, silent, muscled soldier has her firmly in the 'friends' zone...except that Sienna knows he wants her, and she's determined to claim the stubborn man as hers.

Theron Wade lives to fight aliens. They killed his parents, his foster siblings, and his fellow Rangers. Now he has a new team--the tough, mostly-female Squad Nine. But one certain female haunts his dreams and stars in his darkest fantasies. Sienna is his sunshine in the darkness. He wants to her to be happy...and he knows that would never be with a man like him. A man with darker, rougher tastes that would shock her.

As Squad Nine works to track and destroy a dangerous alien device, best friends collide. Theron introduces Sienna to a world of rough, edgy passion that she craves. But as a mission goes off track, the two of them will risk everything for love, for their lives, and to save the world.

I discovered Anna Hackett’s Hell Squad some time ago, then kept coming back to her books because the series became like an addictive, ongoing drama-serial as the last of the human survivors (that we know of anyway) fight to survive the alien apocalypse. Throw in strong women who know their way around the men and I’m sold.

There are some books which I clearly like more than others, but there’s no denying that the series is quite like a drug and I always miss it every time there’s a longer-than-usual break between books.

In every book, there’s always a new development in the ongoing fight against the aliens and ‘Theron’ is no different. There’s heaps of action just as there is unfulfilled sexual tension pulled as taut as a string between Theron and Sienna—and a boatload of kinky sex and hot filthy talk when it finally disintegrates. Silent, strong and with a penchant for rough sex with a little kink (though not quite BDSM) and as the other guy in the all-female squad 9 and a burly rose among the thorny women, Theron only wants a different kind of woman who can satisfy his tastes in the bedroom even though there’s only one woman he wants. It only takes a tussle with the aliens, some near-death experiences and a little creative thinking from Sienna to change his mind. For that, I thought Sienna is a good match for him, eager to play to his darker side and strong enough to push for what she really wants despite his insistence that he’s no good for her.

The bottom-line is, ’Theron’ does have an erotica factor in it but I was an eager reader, having suspected already in Hackett’s previous novella what to expect. I did wish I could have seen more sides to Theron’s and Sienna’s personalities though—apart from the fact that they’re both good soldiers and are adventurous both in and out of bed—and gotten to know them better, but the brevity of the novella makes no allowance for that. What we have instead, is a full introduction to the intriguing Berserker, motorcycle-riding squad whose books will be next. What else can I say but bring them on?

four-stars

Champion by Anna Hackett

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Fantasy/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 30th March 2017
Champion by Anna HackettChampion by Anna Hackett
Series: Galactic Gladiators #5
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing, Anna Hackett Buy on Amazon
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four-stars

Space marine Blaine Strong enjoyed being a composed, controlled member of space station security…until he was abducted by alien slavers. Forced into underground fight rings and pumped full of drugs, he’s now seething with anger and out for revenge.

Rescued by gladiators and fellow humans on the desert world of Carthago, Blaine is fighting to be the man he once was. But when the House of Galen is attacked, he must focus on joining the gladiators to fight back. That means teaming up with a tough, competitive female gladiator who not only challenges him at every turn, awakens a fierce desire he’s never felt before, but a woman who can sense the churning emotions inside him.

Gladiator Saff Essikani is the best net fighter in the Kor Magna Arena. Raised from young to fight, she bows to no man and uses her empathic abilities to win at whatever cost. With her House targeted and people under their care threatened, she’ll stop at nothing to find those responsible. But then she finds herself face to face with a big, tortured man from Earth who affects her like no man before. As Saff and Blaine head into the desert to uncover a conspiracy, their incendiary desire flares hotter than the desert suns. But as Blaine’s angry emotions rage out of control, Saff knows that unless he learns to embrace the man he is now, he has no chance of survival.

There are many Anna Hackett books that are probably scored permanently in my memory, and I’m beyond happy to say that ‘Champion’ will number as one of them.

I’ve been somewhat on the fence with the Galactic Gladiator series but Blaine/Saff’s story is one that I truly liked and could get into without difficulty. It’s the sense of true equality that I got between the both of them – physically, emotionally, with similar spirits of determination, loyalty and courage – which I thought made this story so enjoyable, along with that chemistry that Hackett has written into this unlikely pairing. Throw in the desert landscape, the thrills and spills and the action and ‘Champion’ is a fantastic read that brings a mish-mash of classic but epic movies into play.

Now that we’re waist-deep into this strange, gladiator world, I’m starting to appreciate the sheer scope of Hackett’s world-building again – this woman’s got a heck of an imagination and enough gumption to bring it to life – and am actually quite amazed at how it’s expanding in a manner that’s making me want to know how the future books are going to go.

Still, I had an altogether satisfying experience, enhanced of course, as always, by the anticipation of the next book and pairing written into the end of this story.

four-stars

Alien Mate by Cara Bristol

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 23rd March 2017
Alien Mate by Cara BristolAlien Mate by Cara Bristol
Published by Cara Bristol on April 17th 2017
Pages: 188
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I'm Starr Elizabeth Connor. Earth's government falsely convicted me of a crime, packed me on a ship with other female felons, and sent us to Dakon, a primitive, frozen wasteland of a planet. Why? Earth needs minerals, and Dakon is desperate for females.
But I'm no barbarian’s 'mail order bride,' even if he is super tall, muscular, and the chief of his tribe. He doesn’t want a BBW blonde, either--it's written all over his chiseled face. He'll be truly angry if he ever learns what my 'crime' was.
I am Torg. I have waited 34 rotations for a mate of my own. With this shipment, I was sure to get a fine, sturdy mate who'll bear me many daughters. Instead, I receive a small, curvy, pale-haired female who looks at me with anger and fear.
It is only when we 'kiss' that I believe things may work out between us. But I'm hearing rumors that Starr and her shipmates are law-breakers. To survive, Dakonians must obey all laws … or be exiled into the frozen wasteland. Just when I have found her, will I have to send my mate to die?

There were many moments throughout where I had to remind myself that the suspension of disbelief was key to enjoying this space-order brides story.

Cara Bristol’s imagination certainly works here, though it’s harder to believe that Earth women – convicted criminals no less – would be happy being shipped off as mates to aliens who live on an arctic planet without having met them or know about their culture. Near-instalove ensues and the mated couples actually get on swimmingly despite the cultural and physical differences.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what of make of this novella yet, because it was interesting in some parts and utterly unbelievable in others, perhaps in part due to the brevity of the story.

Quantum by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 20th July 2016
Quantum by Jess AnastasiQuantum by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy #2
Published by Entangled Publishing on August 8th 2016
Pages: 295
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four-stars

Someone wants Captain Admiral Zander Graydon dead. Like yesterday. Zander’s convinced his attractive assistant knows more than she’s willing to say, and if he can stop running long enough, he’ll find out exactly what she’s hiding. Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros is determined to keep her CO safe. Before she tips her hand, however, Mae has to figure out if the alluring man she’s protecting is the real Captain Admiral Graydon. Or an alien shape-shifting imposter.
On the run and no one to trust…not even each other.
Captain Admiral Zander Graydon has seen a lot of action, but almost getting killed three times in one day is pushing it. Only the company of his new assistant, Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros, makes things a little easier to swallow. Except the delectable Lieutenant Marshal Petros is hiding a number of secrets, and her presence might have something to do with the continued attempts on his life.
It’s no accident Lieutenant Marshal Mae Petros finds herself in the firing line alongside the charming but very off-limits Captain Admiral Graydon. She’s taken the job as the admiral’s assistant to determine if a shape-shifting alien has killed the CO and assumed his form. Whether the admiral is human or not, Mae finds herself getting way too close to him as they run for their lives.
Military to the core, Mae and Zander will have to overcome their suspicions of each other to work together, when they realize the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

As with quite a few of Jess Anastasi’s books, I’ve learnt the hard way that the blurb is always insufficient in mapping out just how little it says of her expansive universe and the huge number of things that she’s got going on in it. Zander Graydon and Mae Petros might be the pairing that’s given priority in ‘Quantum’, but it isn’t too long before I’m sucked into the bigger picture that’s laid out here: an insidious breed of shape-shifting aliens have infiltrated planets and key governmental posts for reasons we aren’t quite too clear about yet and one man’s near-insane bid to wage war on them with a crazy ‘shoot first and then think’ policy in order to purge the monsters from his mind.

Rian Sherron – that cynical, snarky war-(anti)hero always on the verge of losing his self-control – is that much pivotal to the galaxy’s apparent survival. Yet what’s so unusual about this series thus far is that he hasn’t been cast as the romantic lead yet, even as everything revolves around this larger-than-life, brash and tortured character.

If ‘Atrophy’ lays out a dysfunctional cast of the Imojenna’s crew, ‘Quantum’ builds on the growing conflict in the wider universe and the burgeoning relationships between Rian and Ella (whose book Ms. Anastasi steadfastly refuses to release until they’ve maxed out their UST) and Zander and Mae, with only a little more focus on the latter pair. I have to admit Zander/Mae interested me a lot less than Rian/Ella, the latter of whom I thought was wimpy at times with her secret-keeping and the evasiveness she kept up with Zander even when it was clear she could trust him. But my preference or personal bias for heroines who put themselves out there – physically and emotionally – comes through clearly here and I did find myself more than disappointed when all Mae did was to cloister up, detach herself and leave the rift she caused to widen instead.

But I’ll say again that ‘Quantum’ is so much more than just Zander/Mae; I can’t help but think of them as just another relationship that’s one of many in this series that’s headed for an explosive climax, in all its irreverent and irrepressible glory. And that’s just the thing which is getting me moist with excitement, along with the anticipation of Rian’s story.

Thus far, I’ve been thrown for a few loops, laughed at the dry but engaging banter, been taken on an action-packed ride through some twists and turns I never saw coming and pretty much went down the long slide to a place no reader wants to go because it reeks of desperation: stalking the author for updates and news on the next book.

four-stars

Quest for Earth by S.E. Gilchrist

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Magic/Paranormal/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 30th June 2016
Quest for Earth by S.E. GilchristQuest for Earth by S.E. Gilchrist
Series: Search for Home #1
Published by Escape Harlequin on July 5th 2016
Pages: 400
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three-stars

With the survival of her crew at stake, an old enemy waiting in the wings, and a mighty chieftain declaring his love, can Sherise lead her people safely home?Honouring a pledge made in the blood-soaked dirt of a prison planet, Sherise volunteers to lead the stolen people of Earth safely home. But when a collision plunges her ship off-course and they emerge three hundred years into Earth’s future, they have nine weeks to repair the ship or the path back to their own time will close forever.On an earth seething with predators and dangerous tribes, Sherise discovers love with the Lycanean chieftain, Maaka. But can she trust him, or is he only after her superior weapons?With the safety of her passengers and crew paramount, Sherise must choose her alliances with great care. For an old enemy is hidden on the planet, and he wants all her people dead.

Reading ‘Quest for Earth’ is akin to being plunged straight into a complex world of galaxies, war and conflict already established in S.E. Gilchrist’s Darkon series, none of which I’ve read before beginning this book. And admittedly, this has made this particular story difficult to get into. Long story short: a ship gets spun into a vortex and ends up at its intended destination: a few hundred years forward and on an Earth that is paradoxically dystopic, technologically backward and on the brink of war. In fact, there is nothing that is familiar about Gilchrist’s earth as we know it today; the Darkon universe spans the galaxies in a far distant future – that far we are removed from it – such that the title is almost a misnomer.

As compellingly expansive as the Darkon universe is, Gilchrist’s world-building is further extended and shaped in this new series, where peripheral characters – who’ve already previously appeared in her previous books – actually get their stories told here. That being said, after I managed to figure out what was going on even if it did take some time for me to get there, I thought the action engrossing and the narrative an engaging, amalgamated derivative of many syfy and fantasy tropes that have never failed to capture my imagination. The H/hr’s – Sherise and Maaka – story plays out against this conflict and I liked former’s strength and loyalty well enough to keep going, despite the latter’s smug neanderthal tendencies which rubbed me raw from time to time. But there is much meat on the bones to pick off and chew on with a pairing that shows so much potential: a Darkon highborn and also a guardian of a galaxy, a former prisoner of war vs. a rather barbaric Lycanean chieftain who fights daily for the survival of his tribe. There is literally, a world between them and a large gap between the cultural understanding of each other’s ways and reading the author’s handling of the tension between them proved a treat to behold.

Yet ‘Quest for Earth’ feels very much unfinished by the time I’ve turned the last page of the book; both Sherise and Maaka have gotten their HEA but in the aftermath of battle, there is no curtain dropping on any happy scene. Instability and disunity remain, with a very distinct set-up of a sequel which I think I’m going to look forward to.

three-stars
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