Dear Ms. Laurenston:
For 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.–?
"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-.