Corey Reviews the Books of Sophia Kell Hagin

Every year since 2013, I’ve reread the last ten chapters of Whatever Gods May Be, starting with chapter twenty-three, which begins with “The instant she strode into the yard with the rest of the Red Cross team, Jamie noticed her, and noticed that she seemed to be a study in contradictions.”

Marine Jamie Gwynmorgan, a prisoner of war in a not-too-distant future conflict in Southeast Asia, meets Senator Lynn Hillinger. There follows non-stop action and consequences as Jamie leads a prison break and firefight through the jungle. The first twenty-two chapters of this book, by the way, are excellent as we follow Jamie from recruit to training to heart-breaking actions all the way to survival… to meeting Lynn. This novel isn’t a lesfic romance. However, Jamie has an undefined relationship with Lynn that is tender and love-centered and forged in crisis. There’s a moment when they first embrace that holds so much compassion that I cry alongside Jamie. This entire novel rests in my memory, but I seek out the book’s ending annually to re-live Jamie and Lynn meeting and persevering.

Then I re-read Shadows of Something Real cover-to-cover (or as we say these days, 0% to 100% on my kindle). In this middle book of the trilogy, I am flummoxed by how many women I love in this novel. Lynn and her wife Rebecca, their daughters Robin and Dana and Dana’s partner Lily, and Rebecca’s mother Mary. They all live together at Great Hill, a compound of very strong, smart, fierce women who are waiting for Jamie to realize she is family, too.

Shadows of Something Real is about the aftermath of war on 19-year-old 1st Lieutenant Jamie, the powerful corporations who underwrote the conflicts Jamie survived physically if not emotionally, and the battle for information intelligence and privacy that seems more true-to-life every year that I reread the book. What once seemed like paranoid future fantasy now seems like today’s almost reality, as if “near future” might be next week.

This novel is a thriller, but also a romance, so much the sweeter for Jamie after all she’s survived. Adele (Lily’s sister and just as bad-ass as the rest of the family) is the emotionally open woman Jamie needs. Thankfully, all these women are humanized by their flaws. Lynn admits to her own overconfidence and sometimes manipulations, Dana is briskly single-minded as she addresses security issues, and Jamie romanticizes Adele always being right in their relationship, when Adele is just as mistake-prone as us all.

This book is chock-full of evil politicians and corporations, high-tech gadgetry and life-and-death struggles. Highly recommended, even to folks who don’t tend toward massive woman crushes like me.

Which brings us to Omnipotence Enough, which has a killer of a set-up: 15 years after the events of Shadows of Something Real, Jamie wakes up in an unknown prison, subject to solitary confinement and at the mercy of armed custodian robots who use pharma and force to control her. Jamie’s been abducted off the street, and she has no idea how long she’s been imprisoned and if Adele and her family are close to rescuing her.

The point of view also switches in this last book to first person, as Jamie records her imprisonment into an audiostick. This ramps up the uncertainty and claustrophobia. I was equally delighted to return to Jamie’s world and fearful I’d not get to meet again Adele and Lynn and their family.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but let’s just say that the themes of political evils-doers and powerful corporations continue from the previous books. What has changed is Jamie, a more mature and self-possessed woman navigating physical and mental recovery that’s all the more courageous for her shakiness.

Jamie survived so much over her life, and I so want her to find stable happiness. I think any lover of thrillers will enjoy Omnipotence Enough, but readers of the earlier books will feel a special investment in this last journey.

Well done, Sophia Kell Hagin. I look forward to your future novels, for the adrenaline and compassion and all the future woman crushes sure to come.

You can purchase or download samples of all of the books by clicking here.

Action Round-Up!

It’s round-up time again.

This time around I’m going to look back at some of my favourite action/intrigue/suspense novels. There’s a fair number of this type of book in lesfic – a little bit of action and danger seems to move the romance along. For this particular round-up I’m going to focus on military and espionage types of books. Normally, I’m not a big reader of these kinds of books – was never in the military and have little frame of reference for them. These books stand out are good solid action novels that manage to transcend into some interesting character studies and fascinating reads.

Whatever Gods May Be by Sophia Kell Hagin

If you’re looking for something different, this is definitely a book I’d recommend. The novel follows Jamie Gywnmorgan, a young woman who joins the Marines, struggles her way through basic training and sniper school and then is deployed into a war zone. Kell Hagin makes this a fascinating story – both with her writing style as well as with the story itself. Jamie is a survivor and the author reveals her and the world she lives in slowly, never dumping expository information and the bits and pieces you pick up about her past fit perfectly (and give a bit more insight) to her character as she grows within the book. I’d definitely classify this as a military/action, with a bit of speculative fiction as it is set sometime in the not so distant future. Some of the technology and the conflict she enters as a Marine may be new, but the core of the book – Jamie and those around her – experiences are familiar and universal. Ignore the book blurb because is does absolutely no justice to this book. Just pick it up and read it.

Rennie Vogel Series by Amy Dawson Robertson

This is definitely a kick-ass series – well-written, intriguing characters and storylines that are both topical and riveting. Rennie Vogel is an FBI agent who has been recruited for a special/black ops force. She’s faced with a tremendous amount of backlash because of her gender, but she proves herself as tough and resilient as her male counterparts and is grudgingly given a position on the team. The team’s first mission is to be dropped into Tajikistan and eliminate a charismatic extremist who is running a terrorist training camp. Things go terribly wrong and Rennie is forced to complete the mission, not knowing that a kidnapped American journalist is also being held at the compound. Scapegoat is a follow-up where Rennie and Hannah are both dealing with the aftermath of the Tajikistan mission … or not dealing with it. It was refreshing to see that there wasn’t a pat HEA after the first novel – bad things happened and both characters are struggling with that – and this gives the reader an even better understanding of both characters. Don’t worry, this isn’t a maudlin or introspective book – there’s plenty of action and intrigue and Robertson builds a plausible situation as well as ratchets up the suspense so you don’t want to put the books down until you find out how it will all end. The set-up of the second book and the attention Robertson put into the supporting characters makes me think (hope) that there will be more to come in this series. I just hope she writes fast.

Elite Operatives Series by Kim Baldwin and Xenia Alexiou

This series had been out for a few years before I actually bought the first book. There was something about the covers and the big splashy “Elite Operatives Series” that made me cringe and think this was going to be cheesy – plus I’m never sure about what to expect when books are co-authored. I’m still not a fan of the covers – but once I started reading the first one, I was hooked. This is a great series that invites you to suspend your disbelief for a little bit and let yourself enjoy the fast-paced plots full of suspense, intrigue, and smoldering romance. I’m not sure how Kim Baldwin and Xenia Alexiou divide the writing, but the narrative is smooth and flows well and the plots are a hell of a lot of fun to read.

The premise of the series is that there is a clandestine organization that recruits orphans from around the world to be the perfect spies and intelligence operatives. Without any family or national identity, they are bound to the organization, and to the highest bidder, for their services. The organization grooms and trains these children and young adults and the best of the best are elevated to the Elite Operative level and they are hired to perform a myriad of tasks from assassination, to re-appropriating stolen treasures, to hostage extraction. Each Operative has their own set of skills, and idiosyncrasies, and the series features a new protagonist and mission each book. The stories are set in present day but as they progress, the authors have taken some liberties with current events and done some interesting things.

Characters from previous books make cameos and there is continuity between books. Despite the links between the books, you could read any one of them as a standalone; however, being the obsessive reader that I am, I recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through them. I read somewhere that this is intended to be a seven book series – which is actually nice to hear. It means that the authors have an overarching storyline with a definitive end and the series won’t fall into the rut of formulaic storylines and characters. You can see it in each book as they set up the next story and characters.

Overall this is a fun read – the plots are full of twists and turns, with a fair bit of action, witty dialogue, lots of hot and heavy build-up of romance, and a nice bit of brooding angst (how can you be an international assassin without just a little angst).