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Cathy Pegau

REVIEW:  Caught in Amber by Cathy Pegau

REVIEW: Caught in Amber by Cathy Pegau

“Recently out of rehab, Sasha James is determined to keep her head down, complete her parole and never touch amber again. The chip in her neck controls her cravings for the highly addictive drug, but also tracks her every move. Not that she goes anywhere other than work and the halfway house she calls home–a far cry from her luxurious former life as lover of the mining colony’s top drug dealer, Guy Christiansen.

Agent Nathan Sterling has no desire to see Sasha fall back into amber, but his sister has become Guy’s latest conquest and the unexpectedly attractive Sasha is the key to getting her back. So in exchange for an introduction, he offers Sasha the one thing she can’t refuse–her freedom. From the chip, her parole and even the planet if she wants. Though he would be sorry to see her go…

Torn between her growing attraction to Nathan, fear of Guy and the allure of amber, Sasha accepts. But who will save her if Guy refuses to let her go a second time?”

Dear Ms. Pegau,

I liked the first book, “Rulebreaker,” enough to keep going in the series despite some problems I had with it. This book gets most things right for me that I didn’t get in “Rulebreaker.” The world building is still good but this time the romance lives up to the genre of Romantic SF.

Caught-in-AmberTo me, this story has much more emphasis on the romance and the character relationships. Perhaps this is just my feeling based on the fact that I’ve read the first book so this “world” isn’t as novel to me anymore. But I honestly feel that the focus here is the people and not the place. Which isn’t to say that the world building is sloppy or neglected. It’s mentioned as if having an artificial eye complete with zoom lens is nothing new, like hover cars are standard and off world trading is ho-hum normal – in other words integrated into the story you’re telling rather than made splashy just for its own sake.

Sasha is a wounded heroine. She thought she knew what she was doing, thought she was in control, she turned away from her parents’ attempt to get her out of this amber world and paid the price when it all crashed down on her. She learned that Guy was a user and a controlling asshole, that she was weak enough to almost sell her soul for the drug she craved and when she was arrested, tried and sentenced to jail, that no one seemed to care. This was devastating to her – being rejected by everyone – and her self esteem sank. The terms of her parole also impose little, petty reminders of her ex-con status that serve to chip away at any small rebuilding of her self worth.

So when Sasha doubts that Nathan has any feelings for her beyond how she can help him get his sister out of Guy’s influence, I believe her and don’t see it as just feeding the plot point.

Nathan is a bit harder to read as a romance hero. But his growing feelings for Sasha seem to build in a realistic way. At first, she’s a means to an end to save his sister. Then slowly he begins to see her as a person with a weakness that could wreck her if she begins to use again. His guilt followed by worry over this seems appropriate at that point in the book. He also admires the chances she’s willing to take when she spots an opportunity to further their plan. As the story progresses, it’s her strength that stands out to him and how much he’ll miss her if she goes off world. The moment of truth arrives when he owns up to the fact that he’ll risk everything to make sure she survives a final encounter with Guy.

The undercover part of the plot works well for me too. Even though Nathan seems to be ‘seat of the pants-ing” it at times, the basic framework of his plan shows he’s put some thought and detective work into it. Still even here the main emphasis of the scenes serve to advance the characters’ relationships.

There’s nothing dramatically different about the way the resolution of the story is reached or plays out. Not to say it’s bad or weak but just that it’s a thriller ending in a story obviously set up to have a thriller ending. Sasha discovers strength she didn’t know she possessed, Nathan keeps his promise to free her from her parole, Sasha falls for this man who not only believes her but believes IN her and they both feel saved by each other. And I believe all of this because it’s shown and not just told. So next up is “Deep Deception” with another f/f romance featuring two strong women I’m looking forward to watching go toe to toe. ::rubs hands in expectation:: B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau

REVIEW: Rulebreaker by Cathy Pegau

Rulebreaker

 

“Liv Braxton’s Felon Rule #1: Don’t get emotionally involved.

Smash-and-grab thieving doesn’t lend itself to getting chummy with the victims, and Liv hasn’t met anyone on the mining colony of Nevarro worth knowing, anyway. So it’s easy to follow her Rules.

Until her ex, Tonio, shows up with an invitation to join him on the job of a lifetime.

Until Zia Talbot, the woman she’s supposed to deceive, turns Liv’s expectations upside down in a way no woman ever has.

Until corporate secrets turn deadly.

But to make things work with Zia, Liv has to do more than break her Rules, and the stakes are higher than just a broken heart…”

Dear Ms. Pegau,

I decided to try a new-to-me author and SF, a genre I don’t normally pick, in order to mix up my recent reading. The fact that the romance is f/f was an added bonus as I’m also trying to discover and read more of this genre as well. “Rulebreaker” worked well enough for me that I’m going to go on to the next book in this series but there were also elements that I wished were expanded more than they were.

There is just enough world building to know it’s the future and not on earth but the descriptions and terms used didn’t get overboard or distracting. Which could be good or bad depending on why someone wants to read the novel. If some hints and triggers of future time were removed, it could just as easily take place here and now. People drink coffee, go to beauty salons, deal with mass transit and are still stuck with Human Resource Departments. That last bit is more than a little depressing.

The dry, deadpan humor is just the type I like. Liv is fun to listen to and I enjoyed seeing things from her POV as well. But she’s far from perfect – either as a person or as an observer as she sometimes misses little things like why wouldn’t their criminal associate bug the room Liv and Tonio are staying in and did she really think she’d keep her mother’s identity a secret? She’s a tough person, though she does have her Achilles’ heel, but she’s also loyal to those whom she loves. I think this balances out the fact that she’s an outright thief and wonderful liar. Hooray for an occasional heroine who isn’t a goody-two-shoes.

True to its title, “Rulebreaker” has lots of conflict and tension – business, family, law and sexual. Liv and Tonio’s marriage ended badly yet they have to find a way to work together to pull off this deal. After she was basically kicked out at age 16 by her grifter mother, Liv doesn’t welcome Sabine back with open arms yet Sabine’s input and knowledge might be just what is needed to get the information required. The mega corporation the group is attempting to blackmail might be about to revolutionize the industry or hiding a black secret that does need to be uncovered. Liv does hint that she’s been sexually attracted to women before though obviously she’s never acted on it.

It’s a well written, emotionally engaging, tight narrative which doesn’t wander all over the place. But the story works better as corporate espionage than as a romance. I actually like that the kind of information Liv is searching for isn’t revealed as it kept me interested in not only if and how Liv would get it but also in what it actually is and how the criminals would use it. The nuts and bolts of how Liv goes about her job and her search sound realistic and her near misses with her boss and others added tension and stretched nerves. And that was before a final twist which cranks up the danger to Liv from both sides of the law.

If the book had focused only on suspense, my grade would be higher but it is also supposed to be Liv falling for her boss, Zia. Their relationship starts quietly with questioning glances then touches which get more and more heated then – suddenly – BAM! it’s sex – albeit tender – and then whoosh! into the “I Love Yous.” Sorry but the pace was just too fast for me to completely buy into not only a HEA but one with a gender Liv hasn’t spent a lot of time contemplating sexually before.

As I said, I do want to go back and pick up the novella that prefaces this book and already have the full length novel that follows but while the espionage kept me interested here, the romance let me down. C

~Jayne

 

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