Tag Archives: Federation Chronicles

Lauren Dane Proves There’s No Genre She Can’t Tackle With Her Rowan Summerwaite Urban Fantasy Series

4 Jan

Goddess With a Blade (Rowan Summerwaite #1) by Lauren Dane (Carina Press, 2011)

If I didn’t love Lauren Dane’s writing so much, she would honestly scare the crap out of me.

It’s ridiculous to find an author this talented, someone who kicks the butt of paranormal and contemporary romance, blasts science fiction romance into another galaxy, and now delivers urban fantasy on a silver platter. Oh, and she dishes all of it up with an erotic level that satisfies readers, like me, who like the bedroom door w-i-d-e open in order to see favorite character’s souls revealed in their most intimate moments (thank you!). I hope she appears normal when people meet her, rather than radiate all this talent which could potentially just shine out of her skin, blinding everyone and necessitating the use of sunglasses during book signings. 🙂

So I don’t know why I hesitated before reading her foray into the urban fantasy genre, because I love urban fantasy and I love Lauren Dane, so what could go wrong? I think I was worried by a few crankypants reviews on Goodreads, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different (and that some people do not know what they hell they are writing about).

First rule of thumb with urban fantasy? One book is not enough. I think this is because the definition of urban fantasy clearly deals with a protagonist who is distinctly “other” by their birth or abilities (often magical) who has to straddle a line between what we think of the normal world and an underworld filled with magic and/or paranormal creatures. Perhaps because of this, the first book of any urban fantasy series has a lot of groundwork to tackle, so I reserve judgement until the second book when characters and overarching plot lines can truly take off.

Luckily for me, the first book of Dane’s Rowan Summerwaite series has been out for a couple of years, so I was able to purchase Goddess with a Blade and grab its sequel, Blade to the Keep off of NetGalley for a one-two punch that totally delivers. Unlike many urban fantasy series which start off with the protagonist experiencing something which reveals their power or the presence of a paranormal underworld, we join Rowan Summerwaite in media res, on her home turf in Las Vegas. She’s a full partner in the Hunter Corporation and a field agent to boot, and under the guise of being a private investigator keeps an eye on vampires in order to insure the safety of humans.

The Celtic goddess Brigid is most often compared to the Greek and Roman goddesses Athena and Minerva, as she is not only a warrior goddess, but also supervises healing, the hearth and artistic pursuits like poetry and certain crafts.

There is probably no one better qualified, as Rowan is the foster daughter of “The First” or the most powerful vampire living and the one who rules their nation. Estranged from him since the age of sixteen when she discovered the truth about her parents’ death, Rowan has always known she is not fully human. Her mother was an acolyte of the Celtic goddess, Brigid, and Rowan discovered while still a very young child that she was one of only a few human vessels ever to have been chosen to harbor the goddess. Not only did this give Rowan another mother figure to thankfully help and heal her, but the goddess’ presence offers Rowan tremendous strength in battle – she’s a warrior goddess after all.

Rowan needed every bit of her divine help. Growing up under the foster father was brutal -vampires over 500 years old (and he’s much, much older) are known for their instability and he sought to make her tough enough to withstand the vampire world. When she fled him, she ran to Brigid’s followers and the Hunter Corporation where she quickly became one of their top hunters, collecting friends and enemies along the way. In Las Vegas, Rowan is currently not super popular among the fanged set as she recently staked the Scion of North America, the head vampire in charge, for endangering humans. Considering he was also embezzling and not a great leader, there are plenty of vampires secretly okay with this, but it’s the principle of a hunter killing such a powerful vampire that has them indignant.

Whoever said that a man in a suit was like a woman in lingerie had the right of it. I’m sure the volunteers to straighten Clive Stewart’s pocket square are legion.

Rowan is beautiful, strong and implacable but nothing could have prepared her for meeting the new Scion. Clive Stewart is a gorgeous, old vampire with the polish of centuries and a voice that sounds like British caramel. That he wears a Saville Row suit like a weapon is a bonus, as is the fact that he’s supremely irritated by Rowan’s demeanor. Sparks are a given and it’s not long before these two discover their goading of one another barely disguises a volatile attraction, one that would horrify both their constituencies.

Avoiding one another is not an option as Rowan’s police contacts let her know that what humans think is a disturbed serial killer is actually a horrifyingly demented vampire. With human women disappearing and crystal meth involved, Rowan and Clive need to work together to quickly find this murderer before the vampires are outed and other women go missing. The tentative trust between them could be easily broken with each of them needing to protect their people (and with Clive’s jealous exes popping up) and Rowan just might need the help of her goddess to come out of this one alive.

It’s obvious why this book is well-rated and it appears that a few people object to the fact that there is not a ton of buildup or simmering sexual tension between Clive and Rowan before they find themselves giving into the insanity of their attraction. I quickly realized this was the point – Clive and Rowan are also astonished by their attraction. I worry that a few of Dane’s dissatisfied readers (who still admit that they enjoyed the book) are thinking like paranormal romance readers and not ones with an urban fantasy book in their hands. While much of urban fantasy possesses strong romantic elements, it’s usually just one subplot of many and a happily ever after is not the goal of the book (with romantic arcs usually taking their course over several books in a series). Clive and Rowan are a fascinating element of the book but even more compelling is the vampire world and the way Rowan straddles multiple lines with her identity.

This identity is vital because the crux of the first book (and the series) is that Rowan is very “other”. She’s not fully human, not fully goddess, and more vampire than most vampires. She’s confident to the point of arrogance but it’s because at the age of 29 she knows exactly who she is and she’s comfortable with it, even when no one around her is. She’s loyal to her friends, is allergic to stupid or pompous people, and can open up a can of whoop-ass like nobody’s business. I love the way Dane shows the goddess as being an entity who works in conjunction with Rowan, and how their long association shows a great deal of trust between them. The goddess Brigid has her own history and possibly her own agenda which offers an interesting twist to future stories.

Blade To the Keep (Rowan Summerwaite #2) by Lauren Dane (Carina Press, December 9, 2013)

Which it does in the second and most recent book in the series, Blade to the Keep. Hunter Corporation will be a presence at the next vampire summit due to the vampire nation’s lack of forthcoming regarding the effect of certain drugs on blood-drinkers, information that came out in Rowan’s Vegas investigation. Because this event happens at the Keep, the castle complex where Rowan grew up under the jurisdiction of her foster father Theo, known to vampires as The First, she’s heading the corporation’s negotiations, and there are a lot of disgruntled people – vampire and human – who don’t like her designated role.

For Rowan, this summit dredges up a lot of feelings as she returns to the place she called home (and the man she called father) for the first sixteen years of her life. While she’s confident at the negotiation table, there are some new players present who have formed a “Blood Front” who do not want Hunter Corp. to force them to any additional provisions in the human/vampire treaty (billions of humans mean snack time for them). One vampire in particular seems to have a history with Rowan’s foster father, and she has it out for Rowan. Rowan has her new boyfriend, Clive Stewart, at her side although she understands that he needs to also represent his North American interests, but even with him and the backing of the First, she can’t help but feel it’s time to circle the wagons when she’s continually attacked from weird ancient vampires as well as undermined by pretentious members of Hunter Corporation who want Rowan’s job. The question remains if even the goddess within her can protect her enough to help her survive this diplomatic mission.

My mental image of the castle complex of Rowan’s foster father known as the Keep.

This book was even better than the first in the series (and I really enjoyed the first book). Having Rowan come back at age 30 to a place she left at 16 means a lot of reflection on her part resulting in her understanding as an adult things that she might not have been able to comprehend as a teen. Having a chance to mend fences with her mentally delicate and occasionally violent foster father, while also dealing with the pros and cons of being the foster daughter of the most powerful vampire on the planet, is fascinating. Add to that the smokin’ hot relationship with Clive, which both Rowan and Clive are prepared to own and not hide, and this is a recipe for a book with all the delicious political machinations which makes a great urban fantasy novel. The villain, the ancient vampire Enyo who shares a complicated history with Rowan’s foster father, also has history with Rowan’s goddess, which is going to make for a very, very interesting third book, I think!

With the majority of urban fantasy novels coming from gigantic publishing houses and with larger price tags accompanying them, this series is offered at an amazing price, coming in under four dollars for each ebook. Part of the price reduction could be Carina Press’ usual largesse, but it also could be the lower page count. Whereas most urban fantasy novels are in the 250 to 300 page range, the Rowan Summerwaite books are right around 200 pages. Far from being a criticism, I actually can’t believe how much Lauren Dane covers in such a short number of pages. Since I’m not a huge fan of first person (although I’ll make exceptions for great authors), I personally appreciate the occasional slight POV shift from Rowan to Clive and I think this choice would be appreciated by paranormal romance readers looking to try urban fantasy. The decision also allows readers to appreciate Clive (and his unique view of Rowan) as well as sheds further light on the vampire world.

With Dane having proven her chops in detailed world-building with her wonderful science fiction series the Federation Chronicles, she’s at home demonstrating the political world of the vampires and Hunter Corporation in detail. Another trademark Dane detail is to have a protagonist with close friends who are essentially that person’s family, people who accept and appreciate the character for exactly who they are. I also love how Dane always manages to have an awesome villain who is never a cardboard cutout but still is so wholly evil (and who has complicated motivations) that you love to hate them. Yum.

The excellently laid out political world of the vampires vs. the Hunters who strive to protect humans (without their knowledge) is reminiscent of the behind the scenes machinations of the Kate Daniels world, while Rowan’s astonishing potty mouth and lack of hesitancy in getting up in people’s business makes me laugh just like Darynda Jones’ fantastic Charley Davidson. If either of these series are your forte (or if you love Lauren Dane’s writing), you will want to give Rowan Summerwaite a try.

Happy reading!!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 1, 2013

1 Dec

Upcoming Books and New Releases

For romance readers who can’t get enough of hot boxers and MMA fighters, I strongly suggest you run (don’t walk) to Abby NilesLove to the Extreme series. The second book, Fighting Love, is due out on December 31st (pre-ordered, woohoo!) and features former Middleweight champion and ladies man Tommy “Lightening” Sparks who not only just lost his title, but also his home when it burned down. Forced to move in with his best friend since they were children, vet Julie Rogers, he wakes up when Julie starts sniffing around another fighter, realizing she’s actually an unbelieveably desirable woman…and he suddenly has something worth fighting for. To make this an even more delicious announcement, Abby Niles is having a terrific $100 gift card to the bookseller of your choice giveway on her blog. Enter before January 3rd.

Paula Altenburg just released the next installment of her Demon Outlaws series, Black Widow Demon, the story of a half-demon woman escaping her fundamentalist stepfather only to embark on a mission of revenge. An intense mortal stranger known as Blade is on his own path to redemption and decides to help her reach a friend who can help her, while trying to persuade her to release her vendetta, but their journey reveals that both their futures are about to change. Publisher Entangled is also running a giveaway over the next month, offering five $10 Amazon or B&N gift cards to winners, so fill out the Rafflecopter entry when adding this book to your to-read list.

It’s no secret that I adore Lauren Dane’s writing, so I was thrilled to see that she’s partnered with author Megan Hart to publish a duology (is that what you call an anthology with two stories?) on December 3rd entitled There All Along. The stories sound amazing, but even more intriguing that (despite the cover – not that I’m complaining) these stories are set in futuristic worlds. Considering Dane nailed science fiction romance in her jaw-droppingly awesome Federation Chronicles series, I feel like I’m in good hands. As usual.

Fans of the computer geek turned hunky hero will want to check out Cat Johnson‘s latest reissue from her Red, Hot & Blue series, Matt, which just came out on November 26th. The 11th book in this successful series, Matt focuses on Matt Coleman, certified genius and the dependable computer guy for Task Force Zeta. Having watched so many of team find love and happiness, he’s even more disgusted that he never goes on assignment. But when a chance comes for him to head to Dubai, and in the company of the only female agent on the task force Samantha Coleman, needed to infiltrate a modern-day harem to ferret out a terrorist. Things are going to get hot in the desert with this unlikely pairing as they discover they are more than compatible on assignment – and in the bedroom.

I adore Lisa Marie Rice and her various suspense series, so I was thrilled to see that she has packaged her Dangerous series in a boxed set. Ignore the Amazon list that says its 100 pages – that’s not even possible considering the length of each book. Three kickbutt books – one about a military operative who has dreamt of the wealthy young woman who he loved as a homeless boy, another about an agent who feigns interest in a small town librarian who is friends with a deadly target only to discover his interest is very real, and finally (my favorite) a deadly arms dealer who fall first in love with an artist’s work only to then fall for the artist herself even though he puts in her mortal danger by doing so – for $11.04 is completely worth it. If you haven’t had a chance to try this great series from Rice, take this opportunity to do so.

Jill Shalvis can always be counted upon to give us a great Christmas novella, and she’s leading off a terrific anthology – A Christmas to Remember – along with Kristen Ashley, Hope Ramsay, Molly Cannon, and Marilyn Pappano. Filled with small town goodness, sexy firefighters and doctors, war widows, and holiday magic, this 225+ page compilation by Forever Yours publishing is only $1.99 right now and will come out on December 3rd, so get your copy ASAP.

New author Jamie Wyman just debuted her newest book, Wild Card, via Entangled Publishing, this past week, and it’s got some of my favorite elements – troublesome gods and goddesses interfering in people’s lives. Catherine Sharp’s soul has been won by the Greek Goddess of Discord and while she didn’t enjoy her previous dead end job, weird tasks for her new mistress aren’t exactly a cake walk. When Coyote, the Native American trickster god claims to have won her in a poker game, Cat has enough and enlists a satryr, Marius, with his own bone to pick with the goddess. Together they might be able to reclaim their lives and destiny, if their growing feelings for one another don’t complicate the situation. Fans of Think Geek, the store that is a mecca for the unashamedly nerdy, will be thrilled to know that Entangled even has a contest over the next month for a gift card to that store and custom poker chips to celebrate this debut paranormal romance novel.

Steampunk goddess Meljean Brook just announced that her wonderful novellas, The Blushing Bounder and Wrecked, both part of her enormously successful Iron Seas series, are now available as stand alone books, for those fans who were reluctant to purchase them in anthology form bundled with the work of other authors. Gorgeous covers and the price of $.99  and $1.99 respectively make these books a steal.

Giveaways

Twins are vital to plenty of romance novels, including historical romance writer Victoria Morgan whose latest novel, The Heart of a Duke, comes out on December 3rd. Lady Julia Chandler’s patience is wearing thin as the Duke of Bedford is taking forever to propose, so she decides to take the reins in hand and corner him with a kiss to hasten things along. What she doesn’t take into account is that the Duke’s twin brother has returned after ten years due to a note that told him to come home and claim his destiny and a subsequent fire that almost took his life. Something is afoot and his evil brother might be behind it, but in addition to solving the mystery he know has to contend with a fascination with the bold woman who deserves more than the Duke of Bedford. Enter the Goodreads giveaway before December 3rd for a chance to win!

Coastal Romance blogger Jenny Schwartz (and that’s the coast of Australia, FYI) is having a Christmas Blog Hop giveaway until December 24th, where you could win a $100 gift card to the ebookseller of your choice and 26 ebooks from this writing group’s authors. Enter by filling out the Rafflecopter entry on the website and sit back with your fingers crossed that you will get an extra wonderful holiday present this season!

In what sounds like a tantalizing new science fiction/military suspense series, The D.I.R.E. Agency, new author Joni Hahn is publishing the first book, Agent I1: Tristan, a second generation Navy SEAL who just finished getting some scientific enhancements to his body (like transportation and invisibility). His ramped up ability means it’s even more important to steer clear of relationships, but he can’t help coming to the aid of one of his fellow agents when he asks him to help take out his sister’s fiancee. Rachel Monroe cannot believe that her brother has ruined her plan to help her mother when he asked his friend to transport her (seriously?!) to a remote island. Now not only is she stuck with a sexy agent when that job description is literally the last one she’d consider when falling for someone. It may be too late for both of them, however… With this book due out on December 16th, interested science fiction romance fans might want to consider entering the Goodreads giveaway before December 8th to see if they can win a copy.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Sara Ramsey added a fourth book to her Muses of Mayfair series, The Earl Who Played with Fire, and if you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, you can enter for a chance to win it on the Goodreads giveaway. Demure Prudence Etchingham leads quite the double life – not only is smitten with her best friend’s brother, but she’s also responsible for some of the top forgeries around London, created so she can raise enough money to avoid marriage since she can’t have the man she wants. Alex Staunton, the wealthy Earl of Staunton, has managed to hide his feelings for his sister’s best friend as his family suffers from a curse that prevents them from marrying the woman of his dreams. When an enemy takes an interest in Prudence, Alex realizes he must figure out a way to break the curse and save the woman he loves. Be sure to fill out the entry form prior to December 5th for your chance to win.

It’s impossible not to love Jill ShalvisAnimal Magnetism series (well, I guess you could not love if you disliked humor, adorable animals, brave heroines, or hot former military men, but that’s your business, you poor sap), but if for some reason you haven’t yet bought the latest book in the series, Rumor Has It, there is a Goodreads giveaway where you can win a copy if you apply prior to December 5th. You’ll want to read the story of returning soldier Griffin Reid, returning home having not told his friends and family about the career ending head injury he suffered overseas. His sister’s best friend, the quirky and gorgeous Kate Evans, not only manages to ride herd on a bunch of fourth graders each day but she takes care of her father and difficult siblings. She wants something just for her and nothing could fit that bill more than sexy times with Griffin, who she has lusted after for years. Although he knows Kate doesn’t do casual and that’s all Griffin does, he can’t help playing with fire, and soon they both realize this situation is a lot more complicated than they imagined.

Fun Stuff

Do you remember my telling you about Oyster, the Netflix-like subscription source that offers a ton of books (including romance novels) to readers? That company is offering gift subscriptions for people you love who are using Apple devices (remember they need to run OS 7 for the best clarity) in 1, 3, 6, or 12 month increments (or you can choose your own number of months). You can either have the gift notification emailed to your recipient or it looks like you can have something to put in your loved one’s stocking, but either way, you’re giving them over 100,000 books for the holiday. Pretty sweet!

As the year winds to a close, best of lists are bound to pop up. For paranormal romance lovers, I can heartily recommend taking a look at Vampire Book Club’s Best of 2013 list – they have hit every wonderful book that came out this year and would be a great guide to insure you didn’t miss something spectacular (because there’s a LOT of spectacular on there!).

Audiobooks lovers are always picky about headphones, particularly if they enjoy their recorded books while exercising. LG is coming out with a sleek set of headphones in the next couple of weeks, their Tone Ultra line, which connects to your device via Bluetooth, so no more annoying, bouncing (or too short) cable going to your phone or MP3 player. With easy to use volume controls and a microphone on the stable band that goes around your neck, you can actually switch quickly from listening to your latest romance novel to answering a phone call.

While fans of Nora Roberts have usually heard about how she wrote her first book after being snowed in with her two very young sons in 1979, it’s fascinating to hear about how her previous work and her many creative endeavors left her unsatisfied until she tried writing. Take a look at The Popular Romance Project’s 5 minute interview with this funny, prolific author and enjoy the insight into her life.

Ereader fans know that there is nothing more frustrating than being out of charge when you are right in the middle of a great book with no outlet in sight! For just those moments, Mimoco offers adorable, fun batteries which can plug in to give extra life to your smartphones or tablets (and they come with the cables you need to connect to all major devices including Apple products). Made to look like crayons, hot dogs or spray paint cans, these fun additional power sources are around 3.5 inches tall, less than an inch in diameter, and charge via your USB port. At around $30, this seems like fun added insurance against bookus interruptus and one easily carried in a purse or pocket.

Great Deals

J.D. Robb fans will want to snag the novella Midnight in Death, the eighth installment of that author’s In Death series starring Eve Dallas (and there are over thirty seven books and numerous novellas to enjoy in this hugely popular mystery/suspense series). This book not only details Eve and her husband Roarke’s rather troubled holiday (murderers do not respect Christmas) but is also currently available for free for the Kindle edition on Amazon.

Kerrelyn Sparks is universally adored for her Love at Stake series – a fifteen plus book series still going strong since its start in 2005 – and you know have a chance to see how it all began. Right now, the first book in the series, How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, is on sale for $1.99 for the Kindle edition. A desperate vampire with a broken fang and a human dentist who is not a fan of the sight of blood is quite a pair, particularly after the dentist in question is the target of a hit by the Russian mafia for having witnessed something she shouldn’t.

In a retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (or Kiss Me Kate for you musical fans), historical romance author Liana LeFey‘s To Make a Match, the third and most recent addition to her A Scandal in London series, Lady Victoria Lennox desperately wants to have a husband and family of her own, but her difficult older sister Amelia has to marry first. Victoria decides to hasten things along but arranging a scandal with Lord Julius Cavendish but Julius is way more interested in the sister marking the arrangements rather than the stubborn older one. He arranges for his friend, Lord Withington to take on that particular dragon as a decoy suitor, but it turns out Withington actually likes the woman! This comedy of errors is going to unravel and the question is, will there be a happily ever after for these players? On sale for $1.99 at Amazon right now.

My admiration for Tessa Bailey and her Line of Duty series is well known, particularly with the incredible addition of Asking for Trouble, the fourth novel in that outstanding group of books which just came out this past Monday. If you haven’t yet sampled this hot collection (it is published by Entangled’s Brazen line after all), you have a great opportunity to try it with the first book in the series, Protecting What’s His, discounted to only $.99. A hot dominant cop and the sexy young neighbor on the run who steals his heart is worth not just a read, but a subsequent re-read (I think I’m up to about six times, now). Get it!

christmas-214228_150On a personal note, I want to let everyone know that I’m planning on doing my usual December Read-a-Thon this year where I publish a review each day on a holiday themed book or novella. I’ll still publish the occasional non-holiday book (there are some really good ones coming out after all!), but hopefully I’ll be able to give you 31 days of holiday romance goodness as my present to you.

Happy reading this week!

Lauren Dane’s Federation Chronicles Aren’t Just Great Erotic Science Fiction, They Are Amazing Science Fiction. Period.

30 Nov

Undercover (Federation Chronicles #1 – Brandt, Sera, and Ash) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2008)

That isn’t to say they aren’t erotic – they are damn erotic – but so much of erotic science fiction is heavy on the unusual penises or having some earth woman show an alien what love really is (and hey, I’m not judging since I read it). What gets missed in that emphasis is kickass world-building with deep conflict and political machinations which highlight the flaws in society, while hopefully giving the reader insight into the inequities in their own world.

Lauren Dane does all this in her Federation Chronicles. And she does it so well that it leaves me reeling and wanting more.

You do have to be comfortable with the erotic part, and a reader unused to a high level of steamy might find the first book a baptism by fire since it involves not just two people, but three and is heavy on a BDSM dynamic. But in case you’re worried this is going to be “who puts what in where,” don’t be. This is Lauren Dane, the writer who gave us contemporaries like the Brown Siblings series and the Chase Brothers series, and paranormal series like Cascadia Wolves, the de La Vega Cats and the recently concluded, terrific Bound by Magick series. Triads pop up all the time in her writing, sometimes accepted by the culture, sometimes not, and she deftly highlights those tensions while infusing the relationship with such emotion that you are cheering for everything to work out (and it does, thankfully, since it’s a romance novel!). While Dane has written this series so each book can be a stand-alone, with world-building like this, I’d strongly recommend reading all of them in order to truly appreciate the story arc.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

The Federation is actually a federation of universes (or ‘verses as the citizens refer to them) settled by humans descended from Earth colonists generations upon generations ago, with a network of official Portals linking vast distances to shorten travel and enhance commerce. Comprised of millions of people and controlled by Houses, a handful of powerful families wield sole control over the masses. Think of the Houses as medieval aristocracy in terms of power and financial control and you won’t be far off. Members of the Houses are “Ranked,” meaning they possess tremendous status and privilege in addition to vast quantities of wealth at their disposal. While ranked men and women can have affairs with unranked people, it’s extremely limited in nature, with the more prominent ranked having to enter political marriages arranged (or at least approved) by the head of their House. Naturally with this arrangement, the men often have unranked mistresses, basically courtesans, and Ranked women are raised to think only of enhancing their family’s status through marriage as their destiny.

The first book, Undercover, focuses on Lieutenant Sera Ayers, an outstanding operative for the Federation military, known for using her facility with languages and cultures to good effect in undercover operations. Coming from an extremely modest background, she’s worked hard to find her place, but has finally achieved a level of respect from her superior officers and her peers and assembled a crack team which she leads successfully. When she’s called into her CO’s office and told that her team has been reassigned to someone else so she can work with the two men in front of her on a secret assignment, she’s both stunned and enraged, primarily because the one man, Ash Walker, is the ranked jackass who stole her heart ten years ago and then shredded it with the offer of becoming his official mistress when his arranged marriage was announced and finalized. She ran from him then and she’s going to run from him now, but not before landing a terrific punch to the face.

Ash Walker knew Sera was likely to still be angry with him, even after a decade apart, but he didn’t expect this strong a reaction. He’s never stopped loving her and while he knows that she is perfect for this mission, he also knows that he’s hoping that he can show her that they can finally have a future together. His sham of a marriage fell apart after only a few years, and the best thing he got out of it was the man sitting next to him, his once brother-in-law, Brandt Pela, who is not only his best friend but his occasional lover as well. Ash suspects – no, he knows – that Sera might be the final piece to bring the three of them together, if she would just lower her defenses.

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Brandt Pela might also be a wealthy ranked man but he sees what Ash stubbornly doesn’t, that Sera was so shattered by Ash’s treatment of her years ago that her lack of trust endangers their mission, especially since Ash constructed their cover so that Sera would have to pose as his mistress. Brandt knows that Sera is astonishingly beautiful and obviously a terrific soldier. Since he quickly decides he wants something more permanent with her as well, he offers to have her be his mistress on the mission, with the clear understanding that they will have to have sex and that the world they are traveling to is going to expect him to share her with Ash.

Sera hates Ash (and her reaction to him after all these years) but she doesn’t have a choice in this assignment. With the good-looking and considerate Brandt trying to make it work with switching the proposed roles, she accepts his offer, knowing that this mission is dangerous both physically and to her heart. When she discovers that her understanding of Ash’s choices ten years ago was not as clear as it should have been – and that the betrayal they are slowly uncovering on their assignment strikes at the heart of Ash and Brandt’s families – Sera decides she will do whatever it takes to fight for her world, even if it means having her heart broken all over again, this time by two ranked men.

I’ll be honest, this book is the most painful of the entire series for me to read since Sera and Ash are still both so raw from their loss of one another, even if it has been a decade. Sera was young and naive, at least to the point that she didn’t understand that Ash’s marriage involved the livelihood of tens of thousands of unranked people like her. Ash is an entitled ass who still doesn’t get it, but he is so in love with Sera and so tender with her as her relationship with Brandt develops that she is able to take the risk and be with him once more. Both Brandt and Ash are dominant, which works fine as Sera loves being a submissive to them (only in the bedroom, however), and the M/M action between Brandt and Ash *fans self* is quite steamy, even though Sera is their ultimate focus. Even though BDSM is not my thing, Dane writes it so well that it was clear the dynamic was about satisfying everyone’s desire to express their love and affection for one another, so it never made me uncomfortable.

I was so wowed by how Dane managed to figure out an HEA for these three since I spent a large part of my first reading desperately trying to brainstorm how on earth she could solve the problem of their status inequity. Yet these two ranked men use everything at their disposal to follow their hearts and find happiness, while also shedding the cover they’ve held for years of dissipated playboys, enabling them to be honest about both their undercover military service while at the same time honest about their love for Sera and each other. As tough as the first half of the book is, the last 30 pages always initiate a gigantic burst of warmth in my chest as it all comes together!

Relentless (Federation Chronicles #2 – Abby and Roman) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2009)

The second book in the series, Relentless, is actually my favorite (by a close margin, but still manages to move ahead). Centered on the Federation’s home world of Ravena, the focus of power and commerce in this polarized world. The powerful heads of houses and their heirs meet in councils to discuss issues and events, and the recent exposure of corruption in the houses of Walker and Pela (fortunately by two honored sons from those houses in the military) have stirred unrest among the unranked.

Heading it is the beautiful and dynamic Abbie Haws, a respected barrister and head of an organization which seeks greater representation for the unranked among the Houses. Abbie considers herself fortunate when she can get one of the House’s personal assistants to return her calls, but she draws attention when a nursemaid to one of the Houses is accused of stealing and fired, coincidentally right before she would qualify for her pension and retirement. The ranked members of the House involved are incensed, and Abbie is almost attacked in the courthouse. That near assault draws the attention of the most powerful man in the Federation, Roman Lyons, the head of House Lyons.

Lauren Dane mentions in her acknowledgements page that she wanted to specifically thank actor Daniel Craig since he was her inspiration for Roman Lyons, and I defy you not to think of that sexy actor as you fall for Roman. Married incredibly young at the age of 17 in a political union, Roman produced two wonderful sons quickly and then watched their mother waste away to a disease brought on by her last birth. Serious and intense, Roman has the weight of millions on his shoulders with literally the responsibility of hundreds of thousands of people directly working for the benefit of House Lyons.

Daniel Craig (the sexy beast). Whether he’s playing James Bond on screen or Roman Lyons in my head, he brings sensuality and incredible strength of purpose to the role. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

So naturally he’s astonished when he meets the troublesome Abbie Haws in his office to discover that the two of them have an immediate, combustible chemistry, one he has literally never experienced before and which ends with her having an orgasm within 10 minutes of their meeting. (That is my kind of meeting!) The two of them recognize that there is something there but the need for privacy is vital as the press getting a hold of any whiff of anything between them would be disastrous. Considering the work Abbie is doing, work that Roman grows to respect and wants to foster, her reputation would be horribly undermined with the taint of sexual connection between them. Roman also knows that as the head of House Lyons, it’s his duty to negotiate another political marriage and strengthen his House.

Knowing that there is no future is no guarantee of not falling in love. Abbie takes Roman undercover to see the lives of the unranked he controls while she gains insight into the unbelievable pressures and responsibilities he has. The Roman Abbie discovers is a man who adores his two sons and is incredibly loyal to the people who work for him. In turn, Roman discovers the truth behind Abbie’s many scars and realizes that a woman who has every reason to despise the ranked instead confronts them daily working to forward the rights of average person. The more each of them uncover, the more amazing their connection, and a hopeless love develops between them, one that they both know must end. For Roman the agony is knowing he will have to deal with everything in his life without the joy and fire that is Abbie grounding him; for Abbie it’s knowing that she will need to go on with her life seeing Roman on the vids (video) and hearing about him at every turn, particularly after he’s married to someone else.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Oh. My. God. There is no way you don’t come away adoring Abbie – the love she has for her family (and they for her), her handling her narcissistic and idealistic father, the older brother who almost went to jail for her before accepting a military position instead, the ex-fiancee who has remained a good friend. Particularly after hearing the crucible she went through at such a young age when she was assaulted, you will be ready to get BFF necklaces and take her out for a drink! Roman is actually her perfect match, as her playful demeanor offers him an outlet he never before possessed and his intense support with no agenda other than helping her is a welcome relief from the many people who demand a piece of her. Their heat is off the charts – muy caliente – and when that sensuality is combined with the tenderness between them, it’s enough to break your heart, particularly knowing how doomed they are.

Which brings me to the number one reason why I think this book should be made into a movie. Of all the books (and the whole series would be an incredible movie franchise if middle America wouldn’t flip out at the M/M action and the triad relationships), the ending of this book, literally had me standing up shouting “Yes, YES!!” the first time I read it (and I still do a fist pump with each subsequent re-read). Dane just surprises the hell out of me with her ability to pull an emotional yet believable HEA out of what previously appeared to be thin air. Suffice it to say that you’ll be so much more in love with Roman than you were before, if that’s possible.

Insatiable (Federation Chronicles #3, Phantom Corps #1 – Daniel and Carina) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2010)

The third book, Insatiable, stars none other than Abbie Haws brother, Daniel, who works for Roman Lyons’ chief military officer in what’s known as the Phantom Corps. In fact, Dane has created a mini-trilogy within the larger construct of the Federation Chronicles, continuing the story arc of political corruption within the Federation and demonstrating how the brave men and women of this elite undercover force ferrets out information and eliminates threats to the universes.

This book brings in a fascinating angle to the series’ story arc of the growing threat to the Federation by exposing us to the threat inherent in Imperial territory. The Imperial ‘Verses are the direct competition and insidious enemy of the Federation although no conflict is officially declared. One of the most powerful men in this ‘verse is a sick bastard by the name of Fardelle, who is about to marry off his twenty-three year old daughter Carina to further cement an alliance with one of his underlings.

Carina has perfected the facade of a shallow, stunningly beautiful woman just waiting to be married off to further her father’s agenda. Her mother, Fardelle’s first wife, has worked quietly behind the scenes to undermine her husband and support her children at every turn, for all the good it’s done her.  Her oldest son literally disappeared and his name stricken from all records and portraits, her youngest son died suddenly of a mysterious and virulent illness, and now her daughter is to be married to a violent lecher who will make the rest of her life a hell. Stealing vital data chips from her husband’s home office, Carina’s mother convinces her to accept the coded data as a subdermal chip, intrinsically linked to her body’s system so that in order to extract the data, Carina must be alive. Contacting Federation forces, Fardelle’s wife arranges for an operative to ferry Carina to Federation territory and safely out of her father’s hands.

Carina agreed to be the carrier thinking that this would undermine her father’s evil while helping her and her mother escape, and she’s dismayed at the last minute by her mother’s announcement that she plans to stay behind. Carina fleeing a horrible marriage is believable versus the more treasonous implications of the two of them disappearing. When the handsome but bossy operative Daniel Haws arrives in disguise, Carina can tell she’s in good hands even if the agent in question treats her like an utter moron.

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Daniel is shocked at not only how beautiful Carina Fardelle is, but how her public face of a vapid, shallow daughter of wealth completely disappears and in its place is that of a vibrant and capable young woman eager to experience the world and feel her freedom. He must get her out of Imperial territory alive, however, and back to Ravena where the information on her chip can be decoded. Fardelle is suspected of trafficking in bioweapons with the goal to attack Federation outposts and the human costs could potentially be in the millions. Yet as he and Carina evade Imperial forces with the help of his fellow agents, Daniel finds himself sexually and emotionally pulled toward this brave young woman, all the while knowing that when they return to his home planet she will be inundated with proposals of marriage from ranked men. But Carina didn’t escape her father’s control to not take the reins of her own destiny, and she knows her future includes Daniel, if he can let go of his belief system to see it.

Dane does a terrific job showing us the phenomenal pressures of Carina’s life, pressures which force her to don an impenetrable mask in order to avoid detection. But although Carina is a virgin, she is a sensual, slightly naughty one with a propensity for voyeurism, so she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and she plans on trying all of them with Daniel. There is no way for Daniel to resist her for long, at least not once his instincts confirm that this bold, courageous woman is the real Carina, and he knows she may just be one person he can never let go. I loved them as a couple, adored their heat, and felt that the sense of imminent threat to the Federation was so well done, I wasn’t sure what was making my pulse pound more – Carina and Daniel’s sexy times or the urgent need for them to get her information back to Ravena ASAP! Meeting the other members of the Phantom Corps helps understand the dynamics of their operation while introducing us to a few key people, namely the heroes of the next two books.

Mesmerized (Federation Chronicles #4; Phantom Corps #2 – Andrei and Piper) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2011)

The first fellow Phantom Corp agent with his own book is Andrei Solace, the enigmatic assassin who helped Carina and Daniel get to Federation territory. Now in Mesmerized, with the escalation of animosity from the Imperial forces a growing rumor – particularly with their use of mercenaries to traffic bioagents and ammunition – Andrei is sent back to his home planet to investigate. There is one mercenary in particular who he never forgot and who he is sure will help the Federation. But seeing her means confronting his past and, more importantly, having the strength to walk away…again.

Piper Roundtree thought Andrei might have died when he disappeared at age 17 and it broke her young heart. Always best friends, their affection for one another became an all-consuming young love which had them taking one another’s virginity. But Andrei and Piper both lived a hardscrabble existence on the wrong side of the law, and while Piper had her siblings, Andrei was alone after his mother died and his siblings were taken away. After his arrest, the Roundtrees never saw him again, only comforted by the occasional packets of credits marked with a single “A” that helped them survive in their isolated compound during the hard years.

But when Andrei turns out to be the mysterious sniper who just saved Piper and her family from annihilation at the hands of Imperial soldiers pressuring her to ferry illegal cargo, Piper has the realization that nothing has changed regarding her feelings for Andrei. Yes, he’s now a man when she loved the boy, but realizing the work he’s done and how he has made himself into a deadly soldier only makes her more determined to show him that he is loved exactly for who he is. Andrei knows that who and what he is will only stain this incredible thing that he has with Piper, but he can’t help needing her, even when he knows he should push her away.

Andrei was a sexy beast in Insatiable and had a demonstrated wry sense of humor, but seeing him revisit his painful past is worth it to find Piper again. She is so upbeat and stubborn (both in the best possible way) and most importantly, she knows him well-enough to understand all the shame and worries he brings to their renewed relationship, allowing her to blast past those barriers one at a time. For Andrei, being an assassin and spy is so much of who he is (and that part of him that he doesn’t want Piper to know) that for him to see her actively take part in his life – using her shady contacts, her ability to bluff and her amazing piloting skills to help him and the Federation – is this eye-opening moment where it occurs to him that his vocation doesn’t have to be separate from the love of his life. I adored them both and cheered for them to figure it all out, even when the ending of the book broke my heart with Piper’s loss during the plant raid.

Captivated (Federation Chronicles #5 ; Phantom Corps #3 – Vincenz, Julian and Hannah) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2012)

That final mission in Mesmerized had a big impact on more than just Andrei and Piper. In Captivated, we see the story begin back at the raid, as Vincenz Fardelle (Carina’s older brother who disappeared and then enlisted in the Phantom Corps) helps raid the plant in an effort to discover more about his father’s Imperial plans for bioweaponry. As he is making his way through the deserted labs, he spots a naked, filthy woman, clearly tortured, in one of the glass cells. Glancing at the lab’s information to insure that she is not infected or dangerous, he’s angered and horrified to discover that she has been subjected to an experiment for over a year at being deprived of touch or interaction of any kind other than experiments involving pain or violent treatment. He scoops her up and takes her to the transport to get her out of that hellhole prior to its detonation.

The woman, who is identified as scientist Hannah Black, is naturally terrified of doctors of any kind, reminded all too much of the experiments and pain inflicted upon her in her captivity. Vincenz, who has rejected his father’s name and taken his mother’s surname Cuomo, is in a relationship with fellow Phantom Corps member Julian Marsters. Brought together soon after Julian lost his best friend in the attack on Ravena in Insatiable, Vincenz and Julian discovered that their love for one another has pushed back the darkness they each carry. Perhaps because of this, they empathize with Hannah’s struggle to fight to gain back the pieces of her shattered memory and personality, immediately protecting her from the Federation doctors who want her in a hospital under their care.

In the weeks after her rescue, Hannah feels nothing but frustration at her fragmented intellect combined with intense affection for the two gorgeous men who protect her. Deprived of human touch for so long, golden Vincenz and the dark Julian keep her sandwiched between them at night, making sure one of them is always close by for her to hold if she needs them during the day. When it becomes clear that she was kidnapped for a reason by the Imperial scientists, Hannah agrees to undergo a painful experimental treatment which will hopefully amplify the piecing together of her memory in order to help the Phantom Corps with information. In the process, a part of herself she thought permanently lost – that of sexual desire – returns with a vengeance and is embarrassingly directed at the handsome soldiers who saved her.

While Vincenz and Julian may have begun their acceptance of Hannah into their home based on the need to protect her, the weeks of witnessing her daily bravery have deepened their feelings into much more and they both admit to each other that their feelings are quite carnal. Helping Hannah reclaim this part of herself as well is nothing but a pleasure to all three of them, but with Julian still withholding a part of himself over grief for his friend and Vincenz facing his father’s demons in an important mission, Hannah wonders if the feelings she has for these two men will have to come to an end.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

Okay, this is the book practically tied with Relentless as my favorite of the series. Vincenz and Julian are both hot and sweet with one another – brainy, hunky soldiers with dark pasts who nevertheless find something precious and wonderful in one another. The development with Hannah is all the sweeter for them not realizing it was anything they needed or wanted, they just woke up one day realizing that her happiness was incredibly important to them and that she was a woman whose beauty, inside and out, made her an intrinsic part of their relationship.

Hannah is an amazing character and I think Lauren Dane is nothing short of masterful the way she conveys how Hannah’s brain has morphed into something truly different, yet how that change has simply revealed the core of her amazing personality. Seeing Piper and Andrei again was a pleasure, particularly when they both explain how Vincenz and Julian are seriously stepping in it and hurting Hannah. There’s no way you don’t have a smile on your face when Andrei lectures the two of them on how to treat a woman! Dane offers great further development of threat from the Imperial forces and a really exciting denouement when we return to the compound from which Carina escaped back in Insatiable. There is joy and heartbreak in the final showdown, but once again, an unexpected HEA that makes you cheer for this triad and the future they have together.

While Dane has made clear that while she is busy juggling other projects in 2014 (and I’m looking forward to them!), she’s is planning at least two more books in the series – Wil (the hot head of the Phantom Corps who we have already seen flustered by a woman back on Ravena) and Deimos (Roman Lyons oldest son who I carry a crush for based on how much he loves his father and how he wants to help Abby). Her website states that she’s hoping their books will come out in 2015, but luckily for us, these five books are so amazing that whenever I get itchy for fabulous science fiction, I just reread them!

There All Along by Lauren Dane and Megan Hart (Berkley, December 3, 2013)

I did want to address the cost of the books – the ebook editions are strangely expensive (like around $11) which I don’t understand at all, but there are mass market paperbacks for each of them with a normal price of $6, and honestly, whatever you pay, they are utterly worth it. I have most of mine in paper format, but considering where they rank in my list of favorite series, I’m going to slowly add the ebook versions since I like to have both formats for books I consider to be romance classics, and these fit the bill.

Many thanks to Lauren Dane for being such a kickass writer that she can do multiple genres with aplomb. She has another (what sounds like) science fiction story (unrelated to the Federation chronicles) coming out this week in a duology with Megan Hart, There All Along, and Dane’s story “Land’s End” about a lone gunman and the woman who’s town is attacked, sounds amazing – I’ve already pre-ordered it!

If you enjoy science fiction, love science fiction erotic romance, or just plain love Lauren Dane, do yourself a favor and get the Federation Chronicles on your to-read list ASAP. This a phenomenal series by a phenomenal writer – you’ll love it!

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