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War Games by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 17th November 2017
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

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

Diffraction by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Fantasy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 30th November 2016
Diffraction by Jess AnastasiDiffraction by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy, #3
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on January 2nd 2017
Pages: 315
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four-stars

After his unusual reaction to a weapon, Commando Varean Donnelly is accused of being a shape-shifting alien and imprisoned onboard the Imojenna. Sure, he has abilities he keeps hidden from everyone—including the gorgeous doc examining him—because the government makes sure people as different as him disappear. For good.
Imojenna doctor Kira Sasaki knows there’s something different about the handsome commando the captain’s thrown in their brig. She doesn’t think he’s Reidar, although he might have been a victim of their cruel experiments. But when Kira learns the stubborn commando’s racial make-up, she finds herself torn between defending him to Captain Rian Sherron and his crew or urging Varean to escape while he still can.

Apart from Jess Anastasi’s ending note that the long-awaited Rian/Ella story is nowhere in sight, it’s glorious to be back with the Imojenna crew and under the wiles of the volatile major captain, who still very much remains a lynchpin in the building action and the fabulous overarching plot of finding an alien species hell bent on infiltrating the galaxy with their stealthy shape-shifting methods. His mysterious past eludes him as much as it eludes us even each chapter unravels him a little more and I can’t seem to shake the feeling that even the leading romantic pair in this story can’t eclipse the importance of one man who finally seems to have turned a corner by the end of the book.

As much as it is about Rian’s continuing quest to destroy the aliens who’d destroyed him, ‘Diffraction’ however, is also about an AF commando who isn’t what he seems and the ship’s doctor who takes a shine to him. But apart from me wondering about the state of Rian’s liver from the constant drinking, there’s a mystery of Varean Donnelly’s heritage to solve and a backstory for Kira Sasaki that add some depth to this pairing. It’s nonetheless a slow-burn, a nuanced account of developing attraction and the measure of denial that seem to parallel the bond between Rian and Ella. The characters are not above eye-rolling moments though, especially as Kira gives into inexplicable TSTL moments when she pushes Varean away in the belief he would be better off with his kind then treats him rather coldly after that.

With Anastasi’s books as always, the blurb reveals just a facet of the fascinating universe and its politics and for this reason ‘Diffraction’ doesn’t function well as a standalone. Every chapter came as a surprise because I couldn’t see what was coming at all: secondary character deaths, new additions to the crew and many fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants moments, with several twists and turns written with such swagger that I wondered if I’d found myself in an amalgamation of all the classic sci-fi series (and the latest Marvel offerings) that I’d binged on in the last decade. Overall, I think the bottom-line here is that it has been such fun, if only to be part of the developing action and the build-up to what might look like a spectacular battle between the bad guys and the good guys…should the series be taken that far.

four-stars

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

Atrophy by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 29th October 2015
Atrophy by Jess AnastasiAtrophy by Jess Anastasi
Series: Atrophy #1
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on December 7th 2015
Pages: 329
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four-stars


No one on Erebus escapes alive...

Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He's innocent. When the ship Imojenna lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape...only to find himself face to face with the captain's undeniably gorgeous sister.
Zahli Sherron isn't planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually believes him. Sure, he's sexy as every kind of sin, but he's no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew...even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself.

A malfunction gets an old, rickety ship onto a prison planet for emergency repairs, the last place any sane person wants to do. But Captain Rian Sherron isn’t the sanest person around, so he does it, setting a chain of events in motion that ends up with a stowaway on board who not only finds a place as a tech hacker on board but also some steamy times with Rian’s sister.

While Tannin and Zahli are well-conceived characters, I’m drawn to the compelling way Jess Anastasi portrays the hard, scarred and so-in-need-of-redemption Rian and the unwitting heat he generates with a priestess he tries to hard to keep away from.


But the book is so much more what than the blurb says; to say that it’s a story featuring an escaped convict and a woman on a ship would be to shortchange it totally, because the Atrophy actually reads like the season opener of a series that is getting me moist with excitement. There’s a motley crew to get to know, multiple conflicts waiting to unfold, shady & tortured pasts to uncover and loads of UST to strip away (Rian and Ella, please) – all of which remind me of Firefly on steroids set in the ever-faulty Millennium Falcon, full of cynical humour, spiffy dialogue and all kinds of made behaviour. The title of the book itself seems a fitting metaphor for the sheer amount of instability we’re thrust into, describing inexorable decline of Rian and of the crumbling galaxy he and his crew inhabit, until Ms. Anastasi (w)rites those wrongs away.

four-stars

Damage Control by Jess Anastasi

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Military/Paramilitary/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Syfy/ Syfy Romance 29th September 2015
Damage Control by Jess AnastasiDamage Control (Valiant Knox #2) by Jess Anastasi
Series: Valiant Knox #2
Published by Entangled: Select Otherworld on October 26th 2015
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five-stars

In space, you can't hide from temptation...
Nick-named Hardass by the new recruits, Leigh Alphin is captain of the Fighter Force of the battleship Valiant Knox. He’s honorable, straightforward, and hard as nails – except for the soft spot he has for a young woman he rescued off a transport under attack. Now that she’s one of his new recruits, it’s imperative he stop thinking about her in that way.
Especially now that the Knox has been secretly infiltrated by the enemy.
Mia Wolf’s new commanding officer is icy, no-BS, and completely gorgeous. His glances send heat searing through her. Neither of them can afford to make this mistake, yet desire takes hold, consuming them. For the first time, Leigh’s iron sense of honor falters as his heart fights for love… and against an enemy trying to destroy everything they hold dear.


Torn between duty and desire, Captain Leigh “Alpha” or “Hardass” Alphin of the Fighter Force is horrified to find himself drawn to a recruit that his team is supposed to train…and vice versa. A relationship is forbidden on so many levels; he has fifteen years on her and fraternising with a recruit could probably get them thrown into military prison. But Mia Wolfe isn’t like any other recruit that Leigh has known; it isn’t long before he asks for her help in unearthing the traitor in their midst. Their growing connection however, cannot continue without some form of sacrifice and with an unseen enemy closing in, a baptism by fire is their only route out of this – even if the villain orchestrating it is little too predictable. The struggle that Leigh and Mia face in maintaining a professional boundary finally cracks and I found a thoroughly guilty pleasure in reading about their deliciously and dangerously illicit relationship, a reason I can safely attribute to both the likeability of both characters and their undeniable chemistry together.


And this is the bigger picture in this universe that I’ve particularly enjoyed: the breadth of the interstellar conflict that gradually unfurls and takes root in this book – there is no dizzying info dump that tends to make a classic space opera read like an incomprehensible plumbing manual – just as characters of the Valiant Knox start to find their own personal HEAs. If ‘Escape Velocity’ was a gentle introduction to the politics of the conflict between the United Earth Force and Christ’s Sunday Soldiers, ‘Damage Control’ is full-fledged novel and a wonderfully immersive experience that cements the series in the syfy-romance category, rather than a romance set far in the future in a galaxy far away.

The cost I paid for this book? A few much-needed hours of sacrificed sleep and a book-drunkenness that will leave me thinking about Leigh and Mia for days to come.

I can live with that.

five-stars
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