Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Shelly Laurenston

REVIEW: Big Bad Beast by Shelly Laurenston

REVIEW: Big Bad Beast by Shelly Laurenston

Dear Ms. Laurenston:

It had been quite a while since I read one of your Pride or Pack books, so when Jane sent me Big Bad Beast to review, I was very excited to check in with a series I’ve really enjoyed. The good news is that I now really want to read Blayne and Novikov’s book. The bad news is that Ric and Dee’s story was more miss than hit for me.

Big Bad Beast by Shelly LaurenstonUlrich Van Holtz is definitely big, and, on occasion, turns into beast (wolf), but he’s not what most of us would deem bad. In fact, Ric is a truly nice guy, an impeccably trained chef with a pretty boy handsomeness, and a natural leader who really has no ambition to lead beyond his kitchen and the work he does for the Group, a sort of FBI/SWAT organization run by the Van Holtz wolves. His greatest ambition, beyond the perfection of his kitchen, is to claim Dee-Ann Smith, the woman he met and fell in love with when she was a mere nine year old with a Bowie knife, cold yellow eyes, and enough confidence to scare most adults.

Dee-Ann is no average she-wolf, though, and is certainly not the kind of woman one mates in an average way. A former Marine and a woman who enjoys fighting just for the sake of fighting, and who wears the scars on her body like badges, Dee-Ann isn’t looking for commitment or even comfort. She’s a little put off by Ric’s “supermodel” good looks and unsettled by his persistent need to feed and take care of her. Ric, however, is determined, and when he realizes that Dee is hardly even living in the apartment she’s rented – an apartment that is home to rats the size of large cats – he insists she come and stay with him, providing the perfect opportunity to make Dee see that she and Ric are perfect for each other.

As Ric stalks his prey, there is another, much more sinister predator at work in New York City, one that is using hybrids (mixed breed animal-humans) in brutal to-the-death fights around the City, their mangled, dead bodies discarded like trash on site. The sheer magnitude of this movement prompts an uneasy alliance between the Wolves and the Cats, which brings numerous characters from past books into the story (including the Shaws and the Llewellyns) and creates numerous opportunities for interspecies competition and trash-talking. Dee, like Ric, is very involved in the investigative work, as well as the efforts the Group is making to bring orphan hybrids to safety, providing them with a sort of in-house foster care, education, and training.

The set-up for this story is very compelling. In fact, at many times I wished that the hybrid story was a stronger focus in the book, because its implications were so fascinating. I could not help but read a racial analogy into this aspect of the story, which further deepened its significance, especially when we become acquainted with several of the young hybrids who live at the Group’s headquarters and are having great difficulty adjusting to life in either the human or the shifter world. And not surprisingly, it is Dee-Ann who is often the strongest role model for these young shifters, as her fearless strength and bad-ass demeanor make her an obvious object of awe for some of these youngsters.

Still, when it comes to love, Dee-Ann is not an average girl, or even an average wolf, and Ric has to plan very carefully about how he is going to entice her into more than the friendship he currently has with her, which is itself a far cry from his love at first sight meeting 25 years earlier, but still not enough for Ric, who is certain Dee is the mate for him. And truth be told, I expected a great deal more drama in the relationship between Dee and Ric, especially given the fun turn-around of expectations regarding Ric’s need for commitment and Dee’s apparent aversion to it. However, most of the conflict seems to occur at the beginning and primarily in Ric’s head. While he’s kissing her:

With their mouths still fused together, Ric slid off the kitchen stool and caught hold of Dee around the waist with both hands, yanking her up and off her chair, pulling her in tight against his body. She groaned a little, her body jerking in surprise when Ric’s tongue dove into her mouth.

God, she tasted perfect. Perfect for him.

The wolf inside him responded immediately, having already decided that Dee was the one for Ric as soon as they’d seen her amble into Lock’s hallway. Dirty, loose-fitting jeans hanging on her hips, boots scuffing Lock’s hardwood floor, worn jacket that had seen better days hanging off a strong powerful body.

Yet Ric fought the wolf’s need to make Dee-Ann his forever.

In fact, he fights it for more than ten additional paragraphs, during which he “quickly analyzed the situation” and determined that he had to make it seem that Dee was chasing him. Which may attest to Ric’s supreme logic skills and intelligence, but also reflects one of the biggest problems I had with Big Bad Beast – namely that every time I started feeling really engaged, something pulled me off track and the excitement dissipated.

As I said earlier, there is a lot of promise in this book. And there are some nice moments when the attitude I’ve come to expect and love from these stories shines through:

He leaned in a bit and sniffed her. “You’ve got strange wolf on you.” His eyes narrowed. “Who you been fuckin’?”

“Rory Lee Reed! You speak to me proper!”

“All right.” He lowered his voice several octaves and said, “Who you been fuckin’?”

Dee grinned. “Ric Van Holtz.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, but don’t tell.”

“Why? You ashamed?”

“Nope. Just seems more dirty that way.”

“You and your dirty fetish.”

“Can’t help it . . . turns me on.”

“Ew.”

“Besides,” Dee went on, “you can’t tell anyone because once Ronnie Lee knows everyone will know.”

“Including your daddy.”

“And Ric is just so damn pretty, it would be a right shame to see him all. . . “

“Eviscerated?”

She sighed. “You do know how Daddy likes to eviscerate.”

Overall, though, despite all of the foundation for great drama and humor, the moments of connection for me with this story were always just moments. I did notice that the prose was smoother and clearer than in some of the earlier books of the series, but I also felt like some of the magic from those books was missing here, as if the polish had smoothed out not just the rough edges of the writing, but all those points at which the story could get some good traction and really take off. Lots of internal narration, which nixes some of the spontaneity between the characters, as well as a general surplus of telling and descriptive prose. Further, the relationship between Ric and Dee never really faces any danger, and the suspense aspect of the book, despite its strong promise, unfolds with more ease than drama, which ultimately made it not so suspenseful.

Big Bad Beast wasn’t an awful book by any stretch. And I will certainly be seeking out Blayne and Novikov’s book. Still, I found Dee and Ric’s book sort of bland, despite the promise of the title and several of the plot and character elements. C+

~ Janet

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
| Sony| KoboBooks

REVIEW:  Here Kitty, Kitty by Shelly Laurenston

REVIEW: Here Kitty, Kitty by Shelly Laurenston

Dear Ms. Laurenston:

402.jpgFor those readers who are looking for stronger and sassier women in Romance, your Magnus Pack series may be a perfect match. When I got Here Kitty, Kitty, the third and final installment in the paranormal adventures of best friends Sara Morrighan, Miki Kendrick, and Angelina Santiago, I hadn't even heard of you, so I decided to read the series from the beginning, allowing me to appreciate and enjoy Here Kitty, Kitty that much more.

And enjoy it, I did. Although this review is technically for the third Pack book, I did not treat it as completely independent in my reading, and cannot in my review, either. Also, I should clarify that the first two books in the series, Pack Challenge and Go Fetch!, were published first by the now defunct Triskellion and then by Samhain. If you initially read or purchased the Trisk versions, I recommend re-investing in the Samhain editions, which I found to be significantly stronger.

At the center of these books are three incredibly strong women, assertive and present in the way I often want the women of JR Ward's Brotherhood series to be. Angelina Santiago, heroine of Here Kitty, Kitty, is the girliest of the three, a tall Latina beauty who favors Chanel shoes, Louis Vuitton bags, and Glock .9mm handguns (but the "Bitch's Hammer,–? aka baseball bat, will do in a pinch). Having dropped her friend Miki off at the airport for her trip to California to see Sara (who is now living in rowdy bliss with her wolf biker pack), Angelina has remained in Texas, unaware of grave danger posed by a rabid band of shifter hyenas. That's right: Laurenston's series is about rival groups of shifters, including wolves, tigers, leopards, and hyenas. The wolves and the cats are at odds (as dogs and cats are wont to be), and the hyenas seem to prey on everyone, generating unexpected danger for the likes of Angelina, who is saved from a vicious hyena attack by two tiger shifters –" brothers who then casually roll dice for her, generously including their absent brother in the contest.

Unbeknownst to Nik Vorislav, his brothers bring his winnings, in the form of Angelina's unconscious body, from Texas to Nik's home in North Carolina, and when Angelina wakes up clad in nothing but a sheet, she thinks Nik is some hillbilly thug, and does her best to knock him out and get away. No simple head butt and toilet tank top to the head will level Nik, though. So it's not long before both he and Angelina realize that shifter politics have escalated to the point where she is actually safer with the tigers than she would be in Texas or California. I don't think readers get the best sense of all the various grudges and rivalries and dangers among the shifters without reading the series as a whole, but I think there's probably enough here to get the gist of things.

What is clear in Here Kitty, Kitty, just like in the other books, is that you bring a freshness to paranormal Romance by creating three women who have seriously over the top personalities. These women could be mercenary hitwomen or spies, no problem. They fight hard, talk rough, and love uneasily. They're loud, defensive, protective, fiercely loyal to one another, proactive, and emotionally wounded despite their surplus of bravado. Angelina, for example, can't stand to be touched physically, and her idea of a perfect relationship is a one-night stand with a stranger. In that, she seems a perfect match for Nik, who, as tiger, is not supposed to pick a life mate, but rather have young with several tigresses. And yet, from the first moment, Nik and Angelina are mutually disturbed by the incredible chemistry they share, disturbed enough to play an amusing game of cat and, er, woman, for quite a while. And this, really, is where your writing shines, in the banter between the characters, the uninhibited nature of both her women and men, and their equivalent strength:

She watched him eat for a moment, then asked, "So you're not married, are you?–?
Nik choked on his burger. He hit his chest several times to dislodge the beef while
she watched him quietly.
"Why do you ask,–? he wheezed out.
"Just a question.–?
"My kind don't get married. We don't settle down. We live alone. Happily.–?
"So you're not like the wolves?–?
He shuddered. "No. We are not like the wolves.–?
"Interesting.–?
"Really?–?
"No. Not really. I'm just looking for shit to say.–?

Nik insists on calling her "sugar,–? and Angelina returns the affection by referring to Nik as "hillbilly–? or just plain "cat.–? At first, Nik isn't impressed with Angelina beyond her physical beauty: He waited for her to say more, but she appeared to be a bit slow-witted. Kind of like his Uncle Billy whose baby sister hit him in the head with a brick. It's not until she whacks him with the toilet tank and shoots at him through a door that he begins to understand that she's different. As they become better acquainted, they incessantly taunt and aggravate one another, all the while marking each other — literally and figuratively — as something out of the ordinary. When Nik shows Angelina his tiger self, she's fascinated but still unwilling to give an inch:

"Is this your way of saying good night?–?
He dragged that big tongue across her cheek.
"Dude! Disgusting!–? But she laughed in spite of herself and immediately let go of her sadness.
One paw released the banister and he hung off the side. He stared through the bars of the railing and it took her a moment to realize he was staring at her. Well, her and her no- panty-wearing ass.
"Hey! Eyes front, cat!–?

The real fun of this book, like the other two in the series, is watching this incredibly strong woman fall ass over ears in love with a guy who routinely turns into a 700 pound tiger and can't seem to follow in his brother's footsteps and spread his romantic attention around. Instead, Nik's like his father, who has what can only be described as an unusual relationship with Nik's mother, who berates her mate by day but purrs within his bed every night. While the relationship between Angelina and Nik is not that combative or volatile, it is not particularly gentle, either. Like everything else about the book, the lovemaking between Nik and Angelina is raunchy and over the top. And fun.

Some books are fun because they are so extreme, and the Magnus Pack series is among them. The women really make these books for me, and I cannot imagine enjoying the alpha male characters without these powerful women to love and challenge them. Of course, over the top characterizations have their price, especially when it comes to character development and the building of a deep romantic attachment. That whole pack/pride "call of the wild–? natural attraction can only go so far, at which point a more subtle, nuanced approach is necessary to even out the tone and solidify the emotional ties the author wants to establish. This, for me, is where the book –" and the series as a whole, but especially this book –" stumbles. As much as I enjoyed the raucous adventure of these two characters struggling with and finally sating their lust, I think the book becomes a bit strident in its insistent excess. In the same way that there's not much middle ground with the characters, neither is there much with the narrative, making it more difficult to carry off the tenderness and deep sense of attachment the reader is supposed to discern. As much as I enjoyed the risks you took with these characters, especially the women, I also would love to see more flexibility in voice. The roughness in the writing is partially eclipsed by the raunchier tone, but not completely, and in a longer book (Here Kitty, Kitty is not much over 200 pages), I think it would bother me more.

You have a print publication coming out soon from Kensington, and I am very interested in seeing how that compares to the Samhain books, especially because of the differences I saw between the Triskellion and Samhain books. My hope is that your writing continues to grow, that you expand your narrative repertoire as the work matures, and that you find a way to balance the wonderful bravado of the female characters with deeper expressions of emotion and more subtle characterizations. I also hope that you are able to maintain your sassy voice but also change up the rhythm and the patterning of your narrative structures, adding more variety to your plotting and style. For Here Kitty, Kitty, though, and for the series as a whole, I give a high B-.

-Janet