Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Katee Robert Shows She’s More Than Just Contemporary Romance with Her Pulse-Pounding Sci Fi Novel, Queen of Swords

27 May

Queen of Swords (Sanctify #1 – Boone and Ophelia) by Katee Robert (Entangled: Select, May 27, 2014)

One of my favorite discoveries is when I realize a romance author shows that her writing chops cross genres and Katee Robert has totally made my day with her release, Queen of Swords.

I adore good science fiction romance (Lauren Dane’s outstanding Federation Chronicles are the epitome of the subgenre to me) and, tipping the scale at over 350 pages, Robert’s latest work demonstrates that she can not only write fabulous contemporary romance (like her outstanding Come Undone series) but also can craft a science fiction world and multi-species characters that will make fans of galactic travel and interesting worlds sit up and take notice.

Ophelia Leoni lives in a dangerous world. Her home planet has slowly come under the influence of Sanctify, a people who worship the purity of the human race and who have an unfortunate manifest destiny problem. As they systematically takeover planet after planet, non-humans are eradicated, put to death in horrifying ways. While Ophelia’s father is a former Sanctify lieutenant, his allegiance to his old religion shifted decades ago to his beautiful Diviner wife and his Diviner daughter. Ophelia and her mother both possess not only the stunning lavender eyes of their race but the ability to hear the Lady’s voice and divine her will through Tarot card readings. When living in plain sight of Sanctify’s forces is combined with helping her father with his successful gunrunning business, things can get ugly.

The High Priestess (Sanctify #.5 – Gerard and Marianna) by Katee Robert (Entangled: Select, March 15, 2012)

Case in point, Ophelia’s recent loss of her ship and her crew who, when confronted with a looming Sanctify battleship, drugged her and shoved her on an escape pod rather than have her die at the enemy’s hands as a Diviner. Knowing that the Lady had warned her of this loss in the cards – a warning Ophelia ignored – has her guilt reaching heights that only alcohol and sex can dull. In her favorite bar, she’s well on her way to the drunk piece of her plan but when the sexy, grey-eyed stranger slides into her booth, Ophelia realizes that she’s about to realize her second goal. It’s not his hard body or face that makes her decide to bed him but the shared sense of loss she sees in his eyes. One insanely hot night she barely remembers and a quick retreat to home has Ophelia hoping that she can hold onto the freedom from guilt a little while longer, but that’s not in the cards.

Boone O’Kierna has battled his sadistic father and his psychopath brother for as long as he can remember. That they happen to be the ruling monarch and heir apparent of the desert planet of Hansarda just means that their reach to hurt others just extends that much farther. Boone and his impetuous sister Jenny managed to get a couple hundred of their people to safety and now they all work to undermine the Hansardian royal family. When Boone hears that his brother is brokering a deal to add a woman to his harem because of the gun-running contacts she can bring him, he tells himself he needs to go get a look at this dowry package. One glimpse of this tough-talking fighter with the haunted lavender eyes of a Diviner and Boone is lost against his better judgment.

That she doesn’t seem to remember his name or the night they spent together too clearly the next day hurts more than he thought, but it reminds him of the distance he must place between them. Luckily for him, he shows up on her family’s doorstep around the same time that she learns from her parents of the Prince’s request. While her father is happy to tell any royal to go to hell, her mother’s cards and Ophelia’s both tell the true story – that Ophelia must go on a journey that will end with her happily married to the Prince of Hansarda. Having had such a recent example of ignoring the Lady’s wishes, she reluctantly agrees to go with the Prince’s emissary, the same man whose name she doesn’t remember and in whose bed she awoke that morning.

Queen of Wands (Sanctify #2 – Jenny and Mac) by Katee Robert (Entangled: Select, June 24, 2014)

What follows is a fabulous story filled with rich secondary characters (some of whom who are destined for their own books in the series) and a story of two people learning to dig past their emotional baggage and trust each other, particularly when certain life events give them a swift boot in the rear. Boone and Ophelia are extremely well-matched, sympathetic but tough characters who are equally willing to sacrifice themselves for the people they love. The prejudice and cruelty meted out by the Sanctify movement is both horrifying and a well-drawn vehicle for plot development and conflict. These are bad guys you are going to love to hate!

Happily there is already a prequel to the series, The High Priestess (all book names come from the Tarot deck the Diviners use to channel the Lady’s voice), which tells the story of Ophelia’s parents Gerard and Marianna. Since it’s hard to imagine a Sanctify lieutenant and a Diviner getting together, this one is on my buy list. I was pleased to see the second full-length novel in the series, the Queen of Wands, will not only be published at the end of June but will star Boone’s wild and dangerous sister, Jenny.

Katee Robert’s Sanctify series is a wonderful and much-needed quality addition to the world of science fiction romance. I look forward to being an avid pre-ordering fan of each book in the series!

Happy reading! 🙂

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!!

December Read-a-Thon: White Christmas by Ros Baxter Offers a Post-Apocalyptic Erotic Short For Your Holiday Pleasure

12 Dec

White Christmas by Ros Baxter (Escape Publishing, December 1, 2013)

I love science fiction romance and for some reason my holiday reading binge is never complete without a few great sci-fi romances in there, the more erotic the better. Imagine how thrilled I was to stumble across this particular short story by Ros Baxter…and find out that it was free right now on Amazon!

The more I read from Escape Publishing, Harlequin’s Australian branch, the more impressed I am with the quality of writing coming out of that particular house, and White Christmas fits my expectations. Despite being a mere 30 pages or so, Ros Baxter manages to sketch a post-apocalyptic world and two lovers separated for years by forces beyond their control (although only one of them knows that).

Tabysha is a scientist – an Explorer –  whose craft was shot down in an unexpected firefight, unfortunately right to the surface of a planet filled with a particular creature – one she’s been studying – who literally survive by sucking the life out of any being with the misfortune to get in their way. With the predators blind, Tabysha knows that she just has to stay in her ice cave to mask her heat signature and wait for the rescue craft on the way.

But when she sees another craft – an Avenger – go down and the pilot clearly struggling and in the path of a hoarde of hunter gatherers, she ignores orders to inject him with a drug that will keep him on his feet and hopefully alive. Yet when he pulls off his helmet, she’s aghast to discover it’s Ashe, the slow-talking Southern boy she feel for at seventeen, the year he disappeared without a trace, breaking her heart. Yet as the creatures get closer and closer to the ice cave where Ashe is deliberately pushing at Tabysha’s defenses, this scientist realizes that succumbing to their still burning desire is the only way to keep them alive.

Holy crap! Ros Baxter has a true talent – I could not believe how much world-building and history she managed to convey with a few, crisply worded sentences. I’m surprised the heat between Tabysha and Ashe didn’t melt that ice cave and I loved the references to Christmas despite the atheism officially adopted in the post-apocalyptic society. It ended up being a nice parallel – just as humanity clung to the holiday of hope and love, Ashe and Tabysha still clung to their feelings for one another deep in their hearts and minds after all those years.

Do yourself a favor and go to Amazon right now to download this short for free. You’ll be happy to have found a new author, gotten a bargain, and managed an infusion of the holiday spirit, science fiction style.

Happy reading!

Ilona Andrews’ Clean Sweep Adds Fantastic Characters and an Intriguing New World to the Urban Fantasy Genre

6 Dec

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews (NYLA, December 2, 2013)

Anyone who adores the Kate Daniels series or the glorious Edge books understands the phenomenon that is Ilona Andrews. A spectacular husband-and-wife author team, Ilona Andrews has a definite corner on the urban fantasy market and their latest publication, Clean Sweep, only adds to their dominance of this market.

In true urban fantasy style, Andrews begins Clean Sweep by deceptively giving us the appearance of normalcy only to strip back the layers to show us how wrong we are in our assumptions. Dina Demille runs the Gertrude Hunt Bed-and-Breakfast, a beautiful Victorian home located in a sweet suburban town in Texas. Unfortunately for her, something has been brutally killing her neighbor’s dogs in the Avalon Subdivision, and while the people around her speculate that its a mountain lion, Dina knows all too well that it’s not.

You see, it’s slowly revealed that Dina is not your normal innkeeper, or rather she’s an Innkeeper with a capital “I”, a vocation held by people with magic who bond with an inn, a place of sanctuary for all types of creatures with the understanding that the location (and the innkeepers) are neutral and can therefore offer safety. Dina’s missing parents were also Innkeepers before their mysterious disappearance and while she’s been channelling her energies into revitalizing her previously abandoned inn, she’s never stopped looking for them.

But this deadly magical creature on the loose puts her neighbors into danger, and at first Dina is highly suspicious that one of them, Sean Evans, a werewolf may be involved, but it’s a supposition she quickly discards. While he tries to deflect Dina’s imperative to figure out what’s going on in his territory (not wanting to admit that he’s a werewolf to a strange human), he quickly realizes that she’s nothing to be trifled with. That he’s never heard of or met an Innkeeper is part of his confusion, but this ex-military man is deadly and very, very territorial. He’s not thrilled about a mysterious creature on the loose and he’s definitely unhappy that Dina feels she has the right to engage it. It seems he’s feeling a territorial about her as well.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive.

The seamless blending of science fiction elements into this urban fantasy is addictive. Image purchase via Shutterstock.

One of the realities Dina helps Sean face is that he’s not some morphed DNA but an engineered race and one of many. As Dina tells Sean, “For various reasons, Earth is a way station for many travelers. We’re the Atlanta of the galaxy: many beings stop here for a layover.” And she transmits this information none too soon. While Dina and Sean have managed to kill a few of the monstrous creatures stalking them, the corpses (or rather what’s inside them) attracts the unwelcome attention of vampires – and they are not the sparkly kind, but the instead the kickass, alien warrior knight kind with a very distinct code of honor.

When one of them is badly hurt, his relative, Arland, a Marshal of House Krahr, comes to protect his uncle and seek vengeance on and information about the assassin wielding these creatures. Sean and Dina realize that they are involved in something much bigger than just a crazed creature in the neighborhood and they put their heads and power together with Arland to flush out the perpetrator while hopefully saving their home. That is, if they can all manage to not get killed first.

Dina is a fascinating heroine, one more than capable of carrying a series on her shoulders (particularly with the help of her morphing broom). I liked how she was well-trained in both magical and physical self-defense but she’s not prone to the mind-altering violence we expect (and love) in Kate Daniels. Dina is truly the embodiment of her inn, a defender of hearth and home who provides sanctuary and protection to others, and she’ll go to any length to insure that safety. That her potential love interests are a footloose werewolf and a vampire who is the head of his clan’s military branch offers a natural source of conflict as it’s hard to imagine a successful long-term partnership with either man (although it’s very, very easy to imagine a successful mating!). The entire story is laced with Andrews’ fantastic sense of humor – those little references or popular culture moments that bring a big grin onto your face.

It’s a profound skill as a writer to reveal layer upon layer of a rich world while also building layers of a plot and make it all look effortless. The immediate story is the one of “who is sending these creatures and why?” – a question which ends up revealing a much more interesting plot with politics and otherworld power struggles. Yet the larger story arc reveals questions that the first book leaves unanswered in order for the series to progress: what happened to Dina’s parents? Where is her brother? What is Sean going to do in the other realm for the werewolves? What are Sean and Arland’s intentions toward Dina?

A shi tzu, the closest we can come to understanding Dina’s wonderful dog, Beast (considering that Beast can morph into something a bit scarier than this little cutie). Image via Wikipedia.

As is typical with Ilona Andrews, the amazing secondary characters blow you away and convince you that this world they’ve crafted actually exists. I love it that the house is truly a character – complete with emotions and reactions just like a human. Any follower of Andrews’ blog knows the troublesome but lovable role their animals provide and Beast, Dina’s dog, will be more than recognizable to any animal lover (her treeing Sean, the alpha werewolf, was one of my favorite scenes!). Even Dina’s permanent guest, Caldenia, clearly has a rich story to tell as she appears to be royalty or some type of powerful entity who may very well eat someone (but don’t try and separate her from her Mello Yello soft drink).

Doris Mantair not only did the cover art but also the interior, stunning full-color illustrations that bring Caldenia, Sean and Arland to life (ladies, please note that Sean and Arland are both available for download in the form of various wallpapers for your electronic devices via Ilona Andrews’ website). This book was an experiment for the writing duo, having been published for free in weekly serial form over several weeks and honed with the continual feedback of readers. That said, the original free format of its release has done nothing to inhibit sales of the official print version, as Andrews’ just announced on December 5th that Clean Sweep had reached the #2 and #3 slots for paranormal and urban fantasy on Amazon in just a few short days. I anticipate that fans (like me!) will be clamoring for scenes from Sean and Arland’s persepectives a la the Curran scenes that are so hugely popular. 🙂

Andrews’ website did announce that the sequel to Clean Sweep would come out in early 2014, but its unclear to me at this time whether there is a single sequel or multiple books which would fulfill the series name of “Innkeeper Chronicles” more thoroughly. Either way, this series (like every other series by Ilona Andrews) has leapt into my “pre-order it, dammit!” list rather quickly. Fans of Andrews, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance with more than a big dose of science fiction elements will want to rush out and grab Clean Sweep while they can.

Happy reading!

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!

Countdown to Christmas: A Galactic Holiday Gets a Big Christmas Star as a Great Holiday Read This Season

6 Dec
A Galactic Holiday Edited by Angela James (containing novellas by Anna Hackett, Stacy Gail, and Sasha Summers) (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

A Galactic Holiday edited by Angela James (containing novellas by Anna Hackett, Stacy Gail, and Sasha Summers) (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

I want to make sure to represent a variety of reading tastes in my “Countdown to Christmas” feature this season and that means including the major subgenres of romance. Erotic romance and contemporary romance are the easiest holiday books to find, but what about something a little less common? Science fiction romance is one of the toughest to locate but I enjoy it when I can come across it. Maybe it’s all that Star Trek I watched growing up, but I love the idea of romance in space or a futuristic earth. No matter where or when, love still looks the same, which is perhaps why science fiction romance is so appealing.

Just like in Romancing the Holiday and Red Hot Holiday, Carina Press editor Angela James picks a roster of strong writers with chops in the science fiction romance subgenre to entertain us with the trio of novellas in A Galactic Holiday. Unlike the other two anthologies which had authors with whom I was already familiar, I hadn’t read any work by these three women, a situation I am already beginning to remedy.

As always, Carina does you the courtesy of giving you total flexibility. You can buy this anthology and get all three stories (for under $7 at Amazon.com and I imagine other vendors are comparable) or you can buy each individual story for $2.99 if one of them doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. Individual story titles below link to the single story option while the title of anthology will take you to the collection.

How the Glitch Saved Christmas” by Stacy Gail

In looking at her Goodreads page, Gail seems to be a relatively new author on the romance scene, with a speciality in science fiction and steampunk. Color me her latest fan, because this story kicked serious ass.

Reina Vedette lives in a futuristic Chicago which has been ravaged by two waves of deadly flu. Androids are everywhere and many people choose to accept body modifications – bod mods – which help them do their job or offer some kind of advantage. Having been at death’s door as a child, Reina remembers the feeling of machinery keeping her alive all too well. Having attained a valued reputation as a top flight detective who relies on her instincts and gut, she has no desire to add machinery to the way she solves crime.

How the Glitch Stole Christmas by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

How the Glitch Saved Christmas by Stacy Gail (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

But the Chicago police force has different ideas. While they can’t require officers to get bod mods, they have made clear that no one will advance in the force without them. Reina is demoted down to to a level one detective while her less talented officers embrace the edict and get promoted above her, harassing her with their newfound power when they know she’s still better than they are. Sitting at the top of the pack is Edison Wicke, who even Reina would grudgingly admit was a top detective and her fiercest rival before he added modifications. Handsome, cheeky, and great at his job, he represents everything about the force Reina has come to despise, so she’s less than thrilled when she’s forced to partner with him on a strange case of burglary, a case where the burglar broke into a home not to steal anything, but rather to leave a tree and presents for a poor family.

Edison Wicke is beside himself that Reina is partnering with him on this case. He transferred from the Lincoln Park precinct specifically to be near her, both due to her outstanding detecting ability and her lush beauty. Over the last two years, she’s acted like he’s barely there and he knows the recent directive to employees has made her the target of every schoolyard bully in the force. He wants to use this case to prove to her that they would be great together, both in solving crime and in bed. The question is, can she get past her prejudice to see their potential?

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod. If you don’t find yourself falling for both Edison and Reina, then you have a heart colder than any android I know. In a richly painted world (and one I hope to see much more of in future stories), Edison and Reina are caliente hot despite a Chicago blizzard outside. Gail’s writing is strong and tight with her novella showing that mark of truly outstanding writing in that you don’t feel anything is missing – we see each emotional step of our hero and heroine unrushed and each plot point is fully fleshed out. It’s masterful enough that I’m buying the other Gail stories listed on Goodreads to see if her writing holds up elsewhere. Color me her newest fan!

Galileo’s Holiday” by Sasha Summers

Galileo's Holiday by Sasha Summers (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Galileo’s Holiday by Sasha Summers (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

When tugger Riley lands on the icy surface of Galileo to repair her ship, she doesn’t expect her whole life to change, but a slaver ship’s cannons destroy the only home she’s ever known in a shocking minute. She’s saved by Leo, a big trader who has made the small Galileo colony his temporary base, and who saw both ships arrive and went to investigate. It’s a good thing he did or Riley would be in captivity right now, her tugger skills gone to waste.

Brought into the fold of this warm community, complete with children – which Riley has never seen in person before – she’s amazed at the taste of real food, the fresh air, and most of all, the hot feelings Leo generates in her. She’s annoyed at the way her body craves him and his very presence soothes her, but he hardly seems to mind. The colony is thrilled with her expertise as Riley seems to be able to fix virtually anything, but when a threat looms which could hurt these people and the peace they have given her, Riley will do anything to help them, even if it means losing Leo.

Summers, like Stacy Gail, seems to only just recently have begun publishing, and I’m pleased Carina Press has chosen to promote her talents. This novella was told solely from Riley’s perspective, which is not something I usually like (I’m a fan of the switching POV so I can understand both the hero and heroine’s perspective) but she made it work for me. I loved Riley, and Leo was a sexy outsider who no woman would have hesitated to go into outer space with. Both of them had a strong sense of personal honor and Summers conveyed their shared values extremely well. “Galileo’s Holiday” refers to the colonist’s celebration of Christmas which was utterly sweet and as a librarian, I loved how the book that survived all that space travel and however many centuries was being interpreted in such an interesting light. This was a well-written, heartwarming tale of love and space adventure.

Winter Fusion” by Anna Hackett

Winter Fusion by Anna Hackett (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Winter Fusion by Anna Hackett (Carina Press, December 3, 2012)

Savan Bardan is the tough negotiator from a planet that is all about individual pleasure and dispassionate choices. Having seen so many of his men killed in the intergalactic wars when he was a space marine, he has plenty of experience shutting off his emotions and it serves him well in his current official capacity. Headed to the cold Perman planet to trade for their ice crystals which offer an almost unlimited source of energy, he knows this deal is going to be difficult. The Permans blame him and other members of his government for delaying the timing of their membership in the trade organization, a delay which cost them countless lives lost to curable illness if they had been allowed to trade for medicine. Savan also knows that the beautiful Perman negotiator Brinn Fjord has never hidden her intense dislike for him or anyone else from his homeland. His boss’ suggestion that Savan seduce Brinn into getting the crystals is nothing short of ludicrous – she’d never look twice at him with anything but contempt in her eyes.

Brinn can’t believe she’s stuck chaperoning around a man she feels is responsible for the death of her father to illness, and on her planet’s most important holiday, Yule, brought over by the original settlers from their planet of Scandinavia. Savan Bardan has never expressed any emotion, and she’d easily believe that he was a synthetic creature devoid of any feeling, but she has a duty to her people to get the very best price out of him for their crystals even if she has to sit there and seethe with hatred.

At least that’s what she feels until they actually start spending time together. Hearing about the lack of any family structure on his home world and the billions of people who have died if technology is rushed upon a new planet makes her begin to see that he’s not without emotion, he has only known pain and suffering, with no balance of love and family. When the two of them are faced with numerous attempts on their lives on their journey to the ice caves to view the crystals, there’s no denying the strong attraction between them. But between the looming secret of Savan’s instructions and the fact that Brinn could not leave her family and world, their future seems bleak, unless they both are willing to compromise.

Wow, if the Perman world starts exhibiting signs of global warming, I guarantee you it is due to the off-the-charts hot sex between Savan and Brinn! This is definitely the more erotic story of the three and it has you forgetting they are on an ice planet. Brinn’s journey into empathy and Savan’s inkling of understanding what a real emotional connection can offer a union is so beautiful and heartwarming, it leaves you with the most wonderful ache in your chest. I loved the idea that Permans were the descendants of the Scandinavian settlers who didn’t mind the idea of an ice planet, with Norse gods, runes, and holidays persisting centuries later. This was an outstanding story by Anna Hackett, who seems to have been writing a few years more than newcomers Summers and Gail, but still largely in the short story and novella range for her otherwise paranormal romance offerings. She needs to do more science fiction as this story was wonderful.

Overall, I would actually say this anthology was the best holiday one Carina has put out this month, with three stories of truly outstanding quality from three relatively new writers who I hope are destined to produce many more stories for our consumption. Turn on the tree lights and snuggle up with some hot chocolate and your ereader to enjoy this fabulous addition to the holiday romances out this season! 🙂

Lisa Marie Rice Puts Plenty of Danger in Her New Release, Heart of Danger: A Ghost-Ops Novel

31 Oct

Heart of Danger (Ghost-Ops #1 – Mac and Catherine’s story) by Lisa Marie Rice (Avon, November 6, 2012)

I’m a big fan of Lisa Marie Rice, particularly for the way that she paints her alpha males and gives a series an overall story arc connecting her characters, usually the male protagonists.

When I found out a few months ago from her blog that she would be releasing a new series this fall, I immediately pre-ordered the book from Amazon and then sat twitching next to my iPad (luckily for me, the Kindle version of the book was released on October 26th whereas readers who prefer print are having to wait until November 6th). Swamped with work and at a conference this weekend, I was actually grateful that Frankenstorm kept me out of work for two days, and even used some of my precious iPad charge after the power went out reading this long awaited novel!

If you like Lisa Marie Rice novels (and I have read all of them – yes, that’s right, I actually have every one of her books), this book and series will offer you the familiar ground Rice always covers and yet it adds an interesting twist. We have our usually brusque, violence-is-his-job male who falls for the elegant, soft female so hard, he can’t remember what his miserable life was like before her. I know some people get critical of Rice using this trope every time, but guess what? This totally works for me.

In Heart of Danger, the setting is the not-to-distant future where Dr. Catherine Young is stranded on the side of a mountain in the vain attempt to try and reach a ghost, the disgraced Tom “Mac” McEnroe, team leader of Seal Team Six (yes, that one) who was accused with other members of his team of the ultimate betrayal to his country. He disappeared years ago, but Catherine’s interaction with a patient in her dementia pharmaceutical study has led her to right to Mac, and as her vision has caused her to believe, he comes to find her.

Dangerous Passion by Lisa Marie Rice (HarperCollins, August 4, 2009) – where Rice first experimented with a slight paranormal element in the attraction between her protagonists

The problem is, he’s totally pissed off, and a big, scary ex-S.E.A.L. is a little overwhelming. No one should have been able to find Mac and his team, yet this doctor about to expire from hypothermia in the winter storm has somehow made it up the mountain to their secret community. It’s not just his life Mac has to protect but the dozens of people who hide alongside him in the mountain, so he’s got to ignore the fact that this is the most gorgeous woman he’s ever seen and instead suspect her of foul play.

But in paranormal/sci-fi tradition, Catherine gives us one of our twists. She has the ability, and always has had it since childhood, to be able to touch someone’s skin and feel their character and emotions. The mysterious patient in her research ward touched her skin by accident and was able to force his thoughts into her mind, showing her he was the former commander of Mac’s team and, while the survivors thought he had betrayed them into disgrace and exile, in actuality he seems to be as much of a victim, unable to speak and close to death. Catherine has literally fallen in love with the Mac this man has revealed to her in his memories, and even while the reality is scaring the bejesus out of her, her body cannot help but react to his presence.

The evil villain provides both our story arc and the sci-fi element. The pharmaceutical company Catherine works for is involved with some very, very illegal research. She thinks that her mystery patient has dementia but her scans reveal surgeries not recorded in his medical file and while dementia symptoms exist, his brain scans show he should be fully functional and able to speak. What Catherine doesn’t know is that the head of the company is taking the drug Catherine is developing to amplify the neurons ability to communicate in her dementia patients, and instead using it to create hopped up super-soldiers, in the hope of helping the Chinese take over the world. (Unsurprisingly, their economy has superseded our own in the future.)

Midnight Man (Midnight series #1) by Lisa Marie Rice (Ellora’s Cave, November 1, 2009)

Mac seems like a cross between Midnight from Midnight Man in his air of command and physically reminds me of Douglas Kowalski from Midnight Angel because of his facial scarring. Rice always does a great job of making even the heroes who are clearly not physically beautiful appealing by explaining their aura of danger and laser-like attention to the heroine (let’s not forget their amazing bodies – that book cover doesn’t seem far off the mark). The sex in her books is always highly chemical, full of off-the-charts heat, a little fast and rough but these joinings always brings our hero/heroine closer together – they literally cannot get enough of each other. With Catherine’s ability to sense emotions through skin, this physical connection takes on a whole other dimension.

Just like in past series, we have two other characters, team members of Mac’s, who future books will flesh out. Nick will be the focus of the next book, I Dream of Danger, due out in July 2013, and while he seems emotionless, we discovered through Catherine’s touch that Nick is still in love with and worries about a woman he knew before he became a ghost. Happy-go-lucky Jon may seem like a surfer dude on the outside, but he’s unable to trust due to some betrayal of his past and I look forward to reading his story as well. There are a lot of interesting secondary characters (like former Oscar-winning actress and now cook, Stella, who I adored) that would either be potential partners for the men or great characters to explore in future books, so I’m interested to see if Rice stops at a trilogy or ends up with multiple books or novellas in this series.

With other supposedly dead members of their former team found at the end of this book, the revelations as to the level of conspiracy and the role of the pharmaceutical nemesis should be rather substantial.  It will be interesting to see how the romantic suspense plot develops as a result of this ongoing explanation, one which seems far more elaborate and substantial than anything Rice has taken on in a series before.

While we will have to wait and see the other books in the series to determine if Ghost Ops can compete with such fabulous classics as Midnight Man or Dangerous Passion, Rice is taking on new territory while relying on tried and true approaches to characterization will undoubtedly have her diehard fans adding this series to their bookshelves. I know I was happy to do it. Thanks, Lisa!

You’ll Want To Get In Bed with Undercover Alliance by Lilly Cain

19 Jul

Undercover Alliance (The Confederacy Treaty, #3) by Lilly Cain (Carina Press, June 25, 2012)

It’s easy to have a little trepidation when approaching a science fiction erotic novella. Science fiction, by its nature, is about world-building and a writer has to devote valuable word count toward while also developing their characters and the rapid attraction between them. Add to this dilemma the fact that Undercover Alliance is the third in a series and I was sweating bullets that had nothing to do with the warm summer weather.

In the excellent hands of writer Lilly Cain, however, I had nothing to worry about.

I was shocked that this beefy novella was around 100 pages since the emotional and intellectual journey it took me on felt equivalent to a full-length novel. It’s also a terrific value at a smidgen over $3 for the Kindle version; I’ve paid a lot more for writing that was not this good.

A space-travel capable Earth has made contact a few months prior to the books events with the Inarrii, a people bound by complex clan systems filled with warriors who follow a strong code of honor in order to reflect well on their families. The Inarrii are also covered with swirling tendrils of what looks like henna tattoos but are in actuality a system of visible nerves which give them outstanding sensitivity, particularly sexually. This is vital to their health as Inarrii must experience regular sexual release in order to deal with stress and maintain mental and physical health, a fact of life which endows them with a freedom and openness to sexuality reflected in their honest approach to life.

Sarina is a damaged Inarrii warrior, looked upon with pity by her people. In a battle during the previous book in the series, a portion of nerve system was damaged beyond repair, making her unable to orgasm, despite her healer’s best efforts. Denied the work as a warrior she loves, she knows that she is a ticking time bomb with her people waiting for her to go insane. When she is given a token assignment to guard a minor human who is part of the legal team negotiating the treaty between their planets, she takes it in the hope that her diligence and ability will be proof of her continued competence.

The Naked Truth (The Confederacy Treaty #2) by Lilly Cain (Carina Press, June 13, 2011)

John Benning is not what she expected however. A good looking, sleek bodied male who can move silently and knows martial arts doesn’t seem the typical prototype for a lawyer consumed with the fine print of contracts. She knows he’s not what he seems yet she can’t help feeling sexually attracted to him. The discovery that they share a mental bond, a rarity between two different species, means that she might be able to obtain orgasm with him by riding his pleasure and through it attaining her own.

John can’t believe the beautiful woman who is his bodyguard. She’s clearly a consummate warrior and her direct sexual approach is refreshing, even as they continually experience one attack after another. Sarina clearly knows he’s lying about being a minor player in the negotiation process, but due to the nature of his mission he is unable to tell her that he is a high-level spy. Ever since losing his partner years ago, John has only worked alone and for good reason – he can’t afford to be distracted worrying about someone other than himself. But this Inarrii beauty might be his undoing.

The emotions, and not just attraction and love but growing tenderness between our hero and heroine, are carefully built and bring the reader into a realm of total belief regarding a relationship between these two. The larger political conflict is easily understandable and introduced with a minimum of exposition but it’s the almost anthropological approach to understanding the Inarrii where Cain excels. When science fiction becomes erotic, it always runs the risk of seeming tawdry or sensationalist, but the reader comes away with a strong respect for the differing approach to sexuality the Inarrii possess, an understanding which does not diminish the hot attraction between the main characters.

I’ll be purchasing the previous books in this series in order to enjoy this world even more and to also revel in Cain’s writing. Both the science fiction and the erotic romance side of this equation will be quite the pleasurable experience thanks to her!

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