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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

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isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

19 Comments

  1. Brandy
    May 20, 2011 @ 14:27:10

    If I had to put it into words I’d say this book was a bit more…. slick than the last few books. I did enjoy it as a light read, but Bo and Blayne’s book (Beast Behaving Badly)is still my favorite.

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  2. di
    May 20, 2011 @ 14:40:38

    I thought the Beast in the title referred to Dee-Ann, not Ric. That’s how I read the story. I enjoyed this one more than Blayne & Bo’s story, because I really loved Dee-Ann. As is the case with most of Shelly’s books, she doesn’t do women you typically see in romances. Thank god! Without her I probably wouldn’t read much m/f romance.

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  3. Robin/Janet
    May 20, 2011 @ 14:51:25

    @Brandy: Blayne was the highlight of the book for me. I am also intrigued by Hannah and Abby.

    @di: Given Ric’s personality, I did wonder if the title was meant to refer to Dee, but the cover shot and the blurb right below the title “All the better to please you…” focused me right back on Ric.

    And, you know, Dee wasn’t so bad, either. Especially not when it came to Ric. In fact, I didn’t mention this in the review, but the love scenes in this book were amazingly tame. Especially in comparison to, say, Angelina’s book — and Angelina doesn’t seem to have changed much, which reminded me how much I loved Here Kitty, Kitty and how happy I was to see her again in BBB, if only briefly.

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  4. CK
    May 20, 2011 @ 16:21:14

    I have to completely agree with your review. I can’t help but wonder if the hybrid storyline wasn’t actually supposed to be bigger but that the writing just didn’t work out that way. Having said that, it was an A for me because I truly enjoyed it as a fan of the series. Laurenston is always a hit for me because of her strong (even if sometimes slightly psychotic) heroines and her laugh out loud humor.

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  5. joanne
    May 20, 2011 @ 16:49:33

    Janet I think this was a case where you almost had to read Beast Behaving Badly to understand the Ric and Dee Ann dynamic. He’s sort of the rich and sophisticated (albeit shifting *g*) Roarke to her take no prisoners (alright, with Dee Ann it’s kill your prisoners) Eve Dallas.

    I wasn’t predisposed to like Blayne’s story because she was so freaking cheerful but she truly did shoot Dee Ann and it turned into one of my favorite stories from this author.
    Also the hybrid situation was gone into so much in that book that this one was sort of a mini-break from all the killing and pathos. (plus reading the author’s description of a shifted Novikov & Blaynes’ reaction is not to be missed)

    The Magnus Pack books, with their never seen them before heroines, will always be on my keeper shelf. Ric’s uncle (cousin) Van’s story Miss Congeniality had the best heroine for me. Irene was a hoot — if you haven’t read that story it’s a recommended read for Laurenston fans.

    Nice review, thank you.

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  6. Tina
    May 20, 2011 @ 17:56:15

    I loved this book. SL’s humor works for me so much!

    But this is not a book a new person to the series can start comfortably because a lot of the humor depends on you knowing these people already. The cameos by Angelina and Sarah from the Magnus pack were a plus, but again you can’t appreciate it unless you know them (missed Miki, though!!). A lot simply gets lost without the context.

    I agree with Joanne about Blayne and Bo’s book. It starts out one way and becomes something else completely. I didn’t think I’d like it at first, but then it ended up being a favorite.

    I actually think her Dragon series is the most consistent across the books. But I would read anything she writes I just love her stuff.

    Also, if you can, catch her novella The Wolf, the Witch, and Her Lack of Wardrobe in the Belong to the Night Anthology it is funny, sexy and bad-ass.

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  7. Carin
    May 20, 2011 @ 18:27:13

    This book was an A for me, though Ric and Dee’s storyline was more of a B. I loved the mass reunion parts of the book. I really feel like this is a book that was SO much better for having read the books that come before it. Laurenston does a great job of keeping her characters true to themselves from one book to the next – they never are or fade to vanilla secondary characters. I love that!

    As others have said, I liked Bo & Blayne’s book a little better than this one. I’m really hoping that she’ll keep writing about some of the secondary characters here, especially Abby and Hannah (the hybrids) and Marcella Malone, too.

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  8. Brandy
    May 20, 2011 @ 18:59:39

    Carin, I think I read in her newsletter that the next book would be Malone’s.

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  9. Robin/Janet
    May 20, 2011 @ 20:40:41

    @CK: I’m a fan of the sometimes psychotic Laurenston heroine myself. ;D

    @joanne: I was thinking earlier about how this book probably needs to be read within the series as a whole for maximum recognition and enjoyment, but I had not realized how closely connected it was to Blayne’s book. Thank you for letting me know that — I will definitely catch up with her book next. And I agree with you about Miss Congeniality; in fact, I think maybe my favorite Laurenston stories and books are the shorter ones. Not sure why, but I think she actually excels in a novella-length format.

    @Carin and @Brandy: I hope she continues the rivalry between Malone and Dee in Malone’s book. In fact, I wanted a little more of that in BBB. I do love Laurenston’s over-the-top heroines, lol.

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  10. k reads
    May 21, 2011 @ 00:24:14

    I’m another one who thought this was an A read. The conflict in Rik’s head over how to woo Dee Ann made sense to me because of what has occurred between them in the previous book. Both the Bo & Blayne book and this one are new members of my keeper shelf.
    I also like her dragon series written under G. A. Aiken. In fact, I think I may prefer it although both series are good.
    When I am having a crappy day, Laurenston’s books are great to curl up with and shut out the rest of the world.

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  11. Robin/Janet
    May 21, 2011 @ 21:38:40

    @k reads: I didn’t have a problem with Ric’s dilemma in general; what threw me was the extensive thinking while he was kissing her. This trend toward emotional telling/backstory development through interior monologue seems to have increased in Romance of late, and I’ve become kind of negatively sensitive to it.

    I did, however, buy Bo and Blayne’s book and look forward to reading it. IMO every book in a series should be able to stand alone to some degree, but I am very curious to see how Ric and Dee’s relationship appears in Beast Behaving Badly.

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  12. k reads
    May 23, 2011 @ 21:49:41

    @Robin/Janet:
    See, I’m different. I don’t believe I have ever read a series where each book was a stand alone and contained a new couple that was able to sustain my interest beyond the first four to five books. At some point in a series, the complexity of the story – whether world building, plot, characters- has to deepen in order for me to continue. But a new reader or someone who has not read every book may find themselves lost or not as invested in the story.
    Big Bad Beast is the sixth book in the series. I think it is the nature of a good series to evolve until the books are no longer stand alones, even if they started out that way. Otherwise, the series feels too static to me.
    I’m not saying your opinion is wrong but I think if readers have read the proceeding books, they may enjoy it more than you did. However, if readers have not read the earlier books then their opinion may very well fall more in line with your own. I’d be interested to hear if your opinion of Big Bad Beast changes after you read Bo & Blayne’s book.

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  13. Robin/Janet
    May 23, 2011 @ 22:35:49

    @k reads: What’s funny is that I’ve read most of the books in the series. For some reason, though, I missed Blayne and Bo’s. I am reading it now, though, and OMG I cannot believe how many holes it fills in! It’s almost like Big Bad Beast is an extension of Beast Behaving Badly.

    IMO I should not have had to read Bo and Blayne’s book to have so much about the next book clarified, although I definitely agree with you that Ric and Dee’s book would likely have seemed much less thin to me had I read Bo and Blayne’s book first.

    Still, in a way I’m glad I didn’t read the previous book, because it made my take on Big Bad Beast un-influenced by everything that’s explained in Beast Behaving Badly. Because while I agree with you that reading a series as a whole always gives you a deeper understanding of any particular book in the series, I still don’t think that any book should require reading the other books in the series to be compelling on its own.

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  14. k reads
    May 24, 2011 @ 22:13:47

    @Robin/Janet:
    I’m just curious, Why? Is it a personal preference or is it about writerly craft?

    I agree that Big Bad Beast is an extension of Beast Behaving Badly. I just don’t have a problem with it. I like the idea of small groups of linked books within a longer series. I see it as an author bending the conventions of series writing.

    (I’m not trying to start an argument. It is just your take is so different from mine and I’m interested in understanding why you feel the way you do.)
    (I’m also one of those people who is compelled to start a series at the beginning and read each book in order. I almost never pick up a book mid series or skip a book. I’m obsessive that way.)

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  15. k reads
    May 24, 2011 @ 22:17:05

    @Robin/Janet:
    I’m just curious, Why? Is it a personal preference or is it about writerly craft?

    I agree that Big Bad Beast is an extension of Beast Behaving Badly. I just don’t have a problem with it. I like the idea of small groups of linked books within a longer series. I see it as an author bending the conventions of series writing.

    (I’m not trying to start an argument. It is just your take is so different from mine and I’m interested in understanding why you feel the way you do.)

    (I’m also one of those people who is compelled to start a series at the beginning and read each book in order. I almost never pick up a book mid series or skip a book. I’m obsessive that way. So I’m rarely faced with the issue of – is the book compelling enough as a stand alone?)

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  16. Robin/Janet
    May 26, 2011 @ 13:01:33

    @k reads: Why do I think series books need to stand somewhat on their own? Primarily because one never knows when a reader is going to pick up on a series.

    If, for example, I pick up book 6 of a series because everyone I know loves that book and is talking about it, if the book won’t stand on its own, then I’m going to read is and am likely to think,’Why does everyone think this is so great?!’ And I’m probably not going to be motivated to pick up books 1-5. However, if I pick up that book 6 and on its own it’s a great read, then I’m likely to pick up the rest of the series from the beginning. I may have a richer experience of a book if I’m a series reader, but if a book *needs* its series mates to really make sense and create significance for me, then I’m probably going to miss out
    on a lot of good series that I haven’t had the good timing to start from the beginning.

    And from an author’s perspective, IMO creating a series that requires a reader to start from the beginning means that you are always going to be losing rather than gaining readers. Inevitably, there’s a drop off of readers who don’t continue past a certain point in a series for whatever reason. But if a later book won’t stand on its own, a series is less likely to gain new readers, IMO.

    In the case of Big Bad Beast, I definitely think it’s a weaker book than Beast Behaving Badly, although I have quite a few questions about the later book answered now that I’ve read the background Bo and Blayne’s book
    provides. Overall, though, I just think Bo and Blayne’s story is funnier, more fun, and richer. Had I read Bo and Blayne’s book first, I don’t know how that would have affected my experience of Ric and Dee’s book. But if I wasn’t such a fan of Laurenston’s shifter books, I might not have been as anxious as I was to read it after Ric and Dee’s book.

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  17. Jan
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 10:36:43

    Late to the party!
    I’m not a convinced Laurenston fan, because even though I like her original heroines, her writing style just isn’t really my cup of tea. I decided to try her out again with Beast Behaving Badly last month though, and I loved, loved, loved that book. I read it three times in a row. Blayne and Bo just really, really worked for me. I got myself the other books in the series as well, but didn’t love them as much.

    And because I loved, loved, loved Blayne and Bo so much, I’m wary of getting this book, because I don’t think I can forgive Dee Ann. She’s just too arrogant, stuck up and judgemental, I’m not sure she’ll be able to redeem herself in my eyes.

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  18. Robin/Janet
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 13:18:05

    @Jan: I totally agree that Bo and Blayne’s book is really funny. I have also really enjoyed Miss Congeniality (novella) and the first three books in the series (especially Hello, Kitty, Kitty, but I love the concept of the three female friends all getting their own story).

    I would never suggest that you not read Big Bad Beast, but maybe take some time out before you do? It’s definitely a VERY different vibe than Beast Behaving Badly, but it does provide resolution to the hybrid fighting subplot, and I’m really glad I got that part, even if the relationship between Dee and Ric wasn’t as compelling to me as Bo and Blayne’s.

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  19. Jane
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 18:04:20

    @Robin and @Jan – I thought Bo and Blayne’s book was very funny. I’m a little on the fence about whether to read Big Bad Beast.

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