Review: Callan by Sybil Bartel

callanTitle: Callan

Author: Sybil Bartel

Year of publication: 2018

The heroine: Nanny Emily Faraday

The hero: Callan Anders

The blurb: I was trained to be a hunter. Growing up in the nation’s most infamous, violent cult, my job was simple. Track. Kill. Survive.

And that’s what I did… until our leader threatened to kill his own daughter.

Refusing to watch another senseless murder, I did what I was trained to do. I took his life. Then I claimed his land, and set every member free, including her. I only had one goal left. Find the sister I was told was dead.

But being a hunter in the woods is a far cry from tracking a woman in Miami Beach.

I didn’t find my sister.

I found my stepsister.

Standalone or series: This is book five in The Uncompromising series, but can be read as a standalone. However, it will make more sense if you have read book three, Andre.

The review: If you love alpha males but you haven’t read any books by Sybil Bartel, then you are missing out. Nobody writes alphas quite like Miss Sybil does. While you can read this book as a standalone, it will make more sense if you have read the backstory that was given in Andre’s book.

Callan Anders grew up on a compound (cult) and has been a stranger to the outside world. Once the cult’s leader dies and the cult disbanded, Callan stays behind on the property he inherited. He has ventured out briefly to the outside world, and one year previously, while at the nearby gas station, he saw her. The brunette who has haunted his dreams ever since, the one he calls his angel. She’s the first female in his life that’s ever interacted with him and not wanted something from him – sex, food, protection.

He goes back there every month in the hope of seeing her again, but she’s never there, so he’s written their encounter off but has never forgotten her. He knows her name is Emily, but that’s it.

When the story starts in the present day, Callan has tracked down his biological father. He’s not interested in forming any sort of relationship with the man, whom he believes to have abandoned and walked out on him and his mother, but he wants answers – while cleaning out the compound in the aftermath of the events recounted at the beginning of the book, he discovers he has a twin sister he knew nothing about. Since his mother is long dead, he only has his father to turn to for answers.

When he turns up on Ted Anders’s doorstep, he’s in for shock – Emily is there. She’s one of Ted’s stepdaughters, Ted having married her mother several years ago. Callan is persuaded to stay for dinner by Emily, but only because he wants to be near her. He still feels the unexplainable attraction towards her. Things get awkward and he leaves, but not before making it clear to Emily that they will be seeing each other again.

Emily, for her part, is drawn to Callan like a magnet. She hasn’t forgotten the man she called the gas station sex god, either, and she’s shocked as hell when he shows up on her doorstep a year later. She keeps telling herself that nothing can happen between them because he’s her stepbrother, but he continues to remind her that they are not blood related and he has no relationship with the man who sired him, so there’s nothing standing in their way. After Callan kisses her for the first time, she’s lost.

Trouble strikes when Emily is dragged out to a club by her sister, Phoebe. Emily grabs a drink at the bar and is chatted up by some man, and she suddenly starts to feel woozy. She soon passes out, and the next thing she knows she wakes up in a shipping container.

Callan starts to worry when Emily does not respond to his texts, and with the help of Andre they ascertain she has been kidnapped by a known human sex trafficker. Emily and other girls are already on their way to Mexico by the time Callan, Andre, Neil and Talon track them down. After a frustrating wait and some double crossing, Callan and co. are able to rescue the girls – including a badly injured Emily, who fought back against her captors and paid for it – and get them out safely.

Once Emily is back on US soil, she is no longer prepared to fight her attraction to Callan any longer and they give in to the desire that has swirled around them since the moment they met. Callan is different to those raised outside the compound; he speaks bluntly and without worry about what others will think, but he is always honest.

I loved this book. I adored seeing the other men make cameos (as they all do with each other’s books) and I loved seeing Callan and Emily’s romance unfold before my eyes. I’m sad this series is over, but am happy to know a new one is coming! This book just proves why Sybil Bartel is one of my all-time favourite romance authors and why she’s now on auto buy; she could rewrite the phone book and I’d want to read it.

Review: Andre by Sybil Bartel

AndreTitle: Andre

Author: Sybil Bartel

Year of publication: 2017

The heroine: Surf shop employee Kendall Reed

The hero: Ex-marine sniper/Security firm owner Andre Luna

The blurb: The Marines trained me to set my sights and wait for the shot. For eight years, I guarded my brothers and defended my country. Now I protect my clients. My personal security firm is the best in the business because I leave nothing to chance… until a dark-haired, hazel-eyed spitfire crosses my path.

She and her sexy as hell strip tease were supposed to be a one-night distraction. But too late I noticed the branding on her back and my blood ran cold. This woman wasn’t a distraction — she was a death sentence.

Knowing who she was left me no choice. I took her on as my client. But running from her past wasn’t an option. The Marines didn’t train me to retreat. They taught me to engage.
One shot. One kill.

Standalone or series: Book three of The Uncompromising series, but can be read as a standalone.

The review: I loved Andre from the moment I met him in the Alpha Escort series. He didn’t seem as serious as the other guys, and was quite a flirt. The heroine is Kendall Reed, who we first met in Talon’s book. She works at Talon’s surf shop as a favour to Candle, the biker in the Lone Coasters MC that our heroes cross path with frequently. Everyone seems to think that Kendall is Candle’s old lady, but the truth is much darker.

Kendall has been looking over her shoulder for three years with good reason: she escaped from the cult she was born into. Her biological father is River Stephens, a sexual predator who fathered all the children born into the cult. He also has a predilection for having sex with all the girls and branding all his flock on their lower back. The government has been trying to get him on something illegal for years, but he’s smart.

Candle, a former cult member who was booted for giving Kendall a flower, helped her get out and has been shielding her from the cult ever since. However, one of the MC members sees Kendall’s brand and, since River Stephens has put a two million dollar bounty on her head (literally), everyone’s after her.

When Andre finds out who she is and what’s going on, he wants to help her. He’s long been attracted to her, but Kendall is prickly. She’s acidic and smart mouthed, and scared to let anyone get too close to her. She knows that her father wants her dead for escaping the cult and doesn’t think anyone can save her, so she pushes everyone away. Except Andre. She’s attracted to him but scared to let him get close in case he’s killed.

Andre doesn’t want to involve anyone else in helping Kendall, not his friends or his employees, but he reluctantly turns to Neil, who then of course brings everyone else on board, knowing they can’t do this on their own. It was nice to see Alex, Jared and Dane from the Escort series, along with the triplets from Neil’s book and some of Andre’s men. Kendall and Talon, despite working together, have never been friends… but it broke my heart to find out Kendall wanted to work for Talon because she knew he could protect her if the cult came for her. She never told him about them or who she was, and there’s a really sweet moment in the book when, after he finds out, he hugs her and tells her he would have protected her if he’d known.

Andre and co decide to storm the compound and offer a trade for the bounty on Kendall’s head. It all goes south, of course, but they find assistance from the man known as Hero. He was Kendall’s first lover, and he also wanted to protect her. She only realised after she got out how much Hero shielded her from River and his vileness. It turns out Hero wasn’t born into the cult, and his birth name is actually Callan – his story is book five in this series.

Kendall and Andre stop denying their attraction to each other, even though Kendall finds it hard to trust him (or trust anyone, really). She’s torn; she wants to be with him, tells him she wants to have his child, but still pushes him away. He understands she’s been conditioned and the last three years have been terrifying for her, on the run with an assumed name, unable to trust anyone and always looking over her shoulder, so he perseveres with her. He makes it clear she’s his woman and he will fight for her. In the end, Kendall is able to stop running, but she needs space so she holes up at a hotel that is right across from Andre’s penthouse. Hero/Callan finds her and tells Andre where she is, and he goes to get his girl. Hurrah!

Review: Neil by Sybil Bartel

neilTitle: Neil

Author: Sybil Bartel

Year of publication: 2016

The heroine: Receptionist/stripper Ariel(la) Walsh

The hero: Ex-special forces soldier/construction company owner Neil Christensen

The blurb: Ex-Danish Military Special Forces, built like a legend, and uncompromising in every way — Neil Christensen didn’t walk into my life. The Viking-sized warrior crashed it like a hurricane.

The moment he showed up at my strip club, my life fell apart. South Florida’s most ruthless motorcycle gang, the cops, the Feds — they all want something I don’t have, something the Viking took from me.

I thought I could run, but the motorcycle gang caught me. Now the only thing standing between me and an unmarked grave is a warrior I don’t trust.

I’m not afraid to die, but I am terrified of weathering the storm. Because when a Viking decides to unleash his fury, no one is going to come out unscathed.

Standalone or series: Book two in The Uncompromising series, but can be read as a standalone.

The review: This is, simply put, one of the best books I have ever read. Neil Christensen is an enigma. Incredibly tall and built, Ariel Walsh nicknames him Viking and it’s apt. He doesn’t talk much, although he can speak seven languages fluently. His face gives nothing away. His demeanour can’t be read. Ariel, a twenty one year old single mother with a two year old son, Conner, is both intrigued and frustrated by him. Conner’s father, Jason, is Ariel’s high school sweetheart and they were happy until he cheated on her and left her for the other woman.

Life has been tough for Ariel; she strips on the side to help pay her rent. There’s little food in the apartment. She’s embarrassed about not being able to provide for her son but bristles when Neil turns up with groceries. He annoys her by refusing to call Conner by his name because he doesn’t want to get attached, but can’t deny the spark when he kisses her. Neil doesn’t ask questions, he makes demands and he expects them to be followed. Ariel doesn’t like being bossed around and she pushes back when he tries to help in his silent, inscrutable way, but as they spend more time together Ariel comes to learn that actions, not words, are what make Neil tick.

Jason gets Ariel involved in a motorcycle club war and she’s frightened for Conner and herself, so she turns to Neil, who also involves Andre Luna (who’s featured in several other books and his own is the next in the series) and several other characters we’ve met before. She loves how he interacts with Conner, speaking to him in Danish. She keeps telling Neil that Conner can’t understand him, but her son does – and this is so spot on because two year olds are like sponges. Neil also helps Jason and his girlfriend, because he knows that Ariel – to whom he refers as Ariella, her full name – wouldn’t want him to be hurt, despite what happened between them. There’s a really sweet scene with Ariel and Jason towards the end that just broke my heart.

You can’t help but feel for Ariel, who’s sassy and strong and sometimes bitchy, which made me laugh because she’s so like a twenty one year old. Neil is much older at thirty four, but the age gap never really felt odd. When Ariel finds out a secret Neil’s been keeping, she’s devastated, even when she learns the reason behind it. But Neil refuses to give up on her, give up on them, and Ariel’s already in love with him so she doesn’t need much persuading to fall back into his arms. The sex scenes were so hot I’m surprised my Kindle didn’t burst into flames!

A really great book that I enjoyed a whole lot. I’ll be adding the paperback to my collection.

Review: Talon by Sybil Bartel

talonTitle: Talon

Author: Sybil Bartel

Year of publication: 2016

The heroine: Nicole Archer

The hero: Ex-marine/Surfboard shop owner Talon Talerco

The blurb: I surf. I f**k. I pretend to smile.

Two years ago my life was perfect, until it wasn’t. I scattered my wife’s ashes then walked away from the Marines. I didn’t think I had anything left to lose.

I was wrong.

The blonde showed up on my doorstep beaten and stabbed. I did what I was trained to do — I stitched her up. I didn’t have a clue who she was and I told myself I didn’t care. Until they came looking for her.

I swore I’d take my last breath before I let anyone else hurt her, except I didn’t know she was keeping a deadly secret. Now I had two choices, her life or mine.

Marriage and combat taught me the same thing — I was no one’s hero. And I was about to prove it.

Standalone or series: Book one in The Uncompromising series, but can be read as a standalone.

The review: This series is set in the same universe as the Alpha Escorts series, so if you’ve read that one you’ll recognise a lot of the same supporting characters in this one.

Two years ago, Talon’s wife, Leigh, died. It isn’t explicitly stated how, but I get the impression she committed suicide. Leigh walked out on Talon one day without explanation, divorced him, and then died. Talon has taken her loss heavily, finding solace in any woman who looks in his direction.

When Leigh died, she left him her estate. He knew she came from money, but he had no idea how much until he inherited it. He had enough to buy a house and his surfboard shop without even making a dent in the money. He has an employee, Kendall, a leather wearing smart mouth with ties to the local motorcycle club. She lives with a high ranking member, Candle, and the rumour is that Kendall is his old lady, but there’s a secret there that isn’t revealed in this book (although I suspect we’ll find out in book three, which is about Kendall and Andre Luna). It sounded to me like Kendall is related to Candle somehow, like his secret daughter. She and Talon don’t like each other and do not get along, but Kendall is the best employee he’s ever had so he keeps her.

One morning, Talon discovers Nicole Archer sitting on a wall across the road. He knows who she is; her boyfriend is Randy, an ex-marine, but no friend of Talon’s. When he goes to see why she’s there, he discovers she’s been badly beaten – broken wrist, fractures, bruises, and a massive stab wound up her thigh. Talon, who was a medic, patches her up and insists on taking her to a clinic. For reasons he can’t fathom, he wants to protect her. She is nothing like his late wife in appearance, but he’s drawn to her.

He’s got nicknames for everyone in his life, and he soon dubs her Siren. He realises that getting involved in whatever’s going on between Nicole and Randy can’t be a good thing, but Talon can’t let her walk away and he’s determined to teach Randy a lesson. Everything goes to hell in a handbasket pretty quickly when it’s discovered that not only is Randy part of the same MC Candle is, but he’s also the president’s son. Randy is trying to get back into the MC after having been thrown out years before and his father wants him to work for it, holding leverage over Randy and Nicole.

When Randy shows up to get Nicole back, she goes with him, despite what he did to her. Talon doesn’t understand why and he fights to extract Nicole from the MC. He doesn’t understand why she keeps pushing him away, and she does, over and over. He thinks it’s because she’s trying to protect him, and she is, but there’s something else he doesn’t know about her. When it comes out, he realises he’s in deep over his head, but he gets involved anyway, knowing it could cost him his life, because Nicole is the first woman who has made him feel anything in a very long time.

Both Talon and Nicole are very complex characters. There were times when I wanted to hug them and times when I wanted to shake them hard. Talon is from the south, so he speaks with an accent and has impeccable manners. Nicole is young and stoic and incredibly strong, but I wish she had just told Talon was she was hiding sometimes. He kept finding out in bits and pieces, and it was frustrating for him (and me!).

This book was all from Talon’s POV, unlike the Escort series which alternated between the leads. I liked this, I think it strengthened Talon as a character, but I would have loved to have had a little insight into Nicole’s mind sometimes. The only thing that bugged me (and it wasn’t enough to detract from the book, but I did notice it a lot) was that Talon called Nicole ‘Siren’ for pretty much the whole book. I can understand him having and using a nickname, but I would have preferred Nicole to Siren nine times out of ten. But that’s just a quirk with me.

As with all of Sybil’s books, there is a lot of swearing and violence. It’s explicit and hard core, and some of the themes might be hard for some readers to digest. But stick with it; it’s a book that will leave you thinking for a long time.