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

REVIEW: The Mane Event by Shelly Laurentson

Dear Ms. Laurenston:

Book CoverYour Pack Challenge series introduced me to three wonderfully strong, sassy, and entertaining heroines (the Samhain reissues, that is), making me actively anticipate your first Kensington release, The Mane Event. Although I had only recently discovered your work myself, I was excited at the possibility of a wider audience being able to enjoy your confidently engaging voice. All of which made my experience of reading The Mane Event bittersweet. Had I not committed to reviewing it, I would not have made it past the first few chapters of this two-novella book. But because I had already promised Jane I would purchase and review the book, I had to read it all. And I am glad I did, because the second novella was much, much stronger than the first.

In “Christmas Pride” we meet Mace Llewellyn, former Navy SEAL, anticipated breeding male of the Llewellyn pride, and all-around hunky male. As a healthy and wealthy specimen of shifter perfection, Mace is unexpectedly resistant to what most shifter males in his position would embrace: honoring his leonine nature and helping to repopulate the pride with superior genetic stock. Instead, Mace has spent nearly 20 years pining for the full-human he crushed on in 9th grade, Desiree MacDermot, now a tough-on-the-outside NY cop on the case of a murdered shifter. And when Mace finds Dez questioning his crazy sister Missy, on the hunt he goes, an unrelenting predator on the trail of the skittish Dez.

There is little new in the setup of “Christmas Pride” outside of the shifter-spin, and even that element of the novella is not particularly compelling because of myriad issues I had with this story. Had I not read the Pack Challenge series, for example, I would not have known how unusual it was for a Pride male to crave monogamy, making Mace’s single-minded pursuit of Dez a 'true love’ anomaly. And as for Dez, her most notable characteristic, both to Mace and to every other male in both novellas is her triple-D bust size. Whether licking her own nipples or filling out a leather bustier, she is always — to my recollection — referred to by others in terms of her “well-endowed” status. It is what I remember most about her, now, too. Well, that and the disjunction between her sexuality as it manifests in her relationship with Mace and as it surfaces in her internal dialogue.

I understand that part of the Romance formula seems to be that women in highly sexual, mated relationships have to be having the VERY BEST sex of their lives. But that so often seems to translate into a sexual background of inexperience, trauma, or conflict. Dez replays an internal dialogue her ex-husband apparently fed her of a “bitter . . . cold fish with a dry pussy.” I kept expecting her to have a traumatic family history (when in fact her she’s her father’s favorite, and not in an icky way) or some other history of rejection. But in fact, every single man who comes in contact with her is bowled over by her breasts and her overall attractiveness, and she’s incredibly sexually free with Mace, virtually climaxing every time they’re in physical proximity. Consequently, those moments in which she rehearses her ex-husband’s unkind litany seem manufactured, although I cannot really discern the purpose. Similarly, Mace’s singular focus on Dez made his occasional ruminations that he should instead be basking in the myriad privileges of being a prime pride breeding male seem downright uncharacteristic.

And I think this is one of my biggest problems with this novella: so much of the conflict felt manufactured and awkward. For example, there is the way the internal thoughts of characters seem to be directed at the reader: A sudden move like that could blow it all. Dez trusted him. Trusting him even though she knew he wasn’t human. Not completely. That meant more than he could ever say, and he wasn’t about to ruin it by being…ya know…a guy. There are certain descriptors like “twisted pervert” or “cocky prick” that are inexplicably repetitive, as well an overabundance of awkward phrasing: He took that as a good sign and decided to barrel forward-slowly. There are copyediting issues, as well. For example, Dez’s house is alternatively described as an apartment, and in one scene she’s wearing a sweatshirt that morphs into a sweater in the next. Plus, there were enough dangling modifiers that I started to keep mental track of them as I was reading, as well as quite a few jarring transitions and POV shifts. Then there wass the fate of the suspense plot, which basically evaporated once Dez and Mace consummated their sexual relationship, despite Dez’s insistence that she’s cop to the bone. Had I not read the Pack Challenge series, “Christmas Pride” would probably have been my first and last venture into this shifter world.

Fortunately, however, “Shaw’s Tail” reminded of what I loved so much about those earlier Pack novels. Where “Christmas Pride” was awkwardly written and inconsistently characterized, “Shaw’s Tail” was crisper, smoother, and tighter. Like Mace Llewellyn, Brendon Shaw is a pride male, but unlike Mace, he has welcomed his role as prime breeder and successful businessman, enjoying the process of populating his pride but maintaining strict contracts regarding his and his children’s rights. Seriously wounded in the course of “Christmas Pride,” Brendon ends up in the hospital with a young she-wolf, Ronnie Lee Reed, left to watch over him after Dez and the wolves rescue him from his attacker. In the course of a raging fever (during which shifters can change back and forth erratically), Brendon latches onto Ronnie, drawing both of them inadvertently into a precipitous escape from the hospital. Precipitous because Brendon is still in the grip of a fever and because the only place Ronnie can think to take him is her aunt’s modest Long Island house. At Christmas time. When Brendon is more than a little likely to flee the house, shift into his lion form, and mambo to the Christmas calypso music floating across the neighbor’s lawn.

Unlike in “Christmas Pride,” the very slight suspense plot here works well as a relationship catalyst, believably creating the right conditions for Brendon and Ronnie to grow a strong hankering for one another. In his initially fevered state, Brendon engages Ronnie in a few hot and heavy kisses that seal the attraction and keep them thinking about each other after he recovers. Most of the conflict here is in the relationship, especially from Ronnie’s sheer terror of a long-term attachment (despite the fact that she’s wolf, and wolves mate for life), and, to a lesser degree, from Brendon’s efforts to save his renegade brother and bring him back into the family fold.

It’s a shame that this novella didn’t come first in The Mane Event, because “Shaw’s Tail” is so much more polished and confident than “Christmas Pride.” Ronnie has recently decided to give up her hard-drinking, international drag racing ways for a return to school and the beginning of a grown-up life. She imagines that someday she will meet a nice wolf and settle down to have pups, but her commitment phobia keeps that reality forever in the future. Her fear of emotional attachment is never actually explained, especially in life of her wolf nature, but her character is consistently rebellious enough that on that level, at least, it made sense. That her mother would have liked her to settle down and be a 'respectable’ member of the Smith pack seemed enough to push the ever-contrary Ronnie in the opposite direction: They’re afraid of becoming like some of the Smith females. Trapped in a small town, mated to men they love but can barely stand with five or six more Smith males to raise. The women in “Shaw’s Tail” seem to subscribe to a different theory of love: “Trust me, pups, one day you’ll find that male who makes you love him, care for him, and want to stab him in the face all at the same time. And your lives will never be the same.” And to a great degree, this pretty much describes Ronnie’s attachment to Brendon.

Although it sounds a bit cynical, that slightly twisted approach to love works for these characters, in part because they are both so alpha in personality, and also because they come from historically competitive backgrounds (dogs and cats). And perhaps because the dynamic between them is clearly both affectionate and competitive, the chase remains engaging for the course of the novella:

“And you have three brothers.”
“Yup.” She shook her head. “They wouldn’t like your pretty face one bit.”
“Don’t give a rat’s ass about your brothers. Do you like my pretty face?”
“Yeah. I do.” She gently stroked his cheek. “But if my brothers come to New York and find you sniffing around me, what the Doogan brothers did to you in those tunnels will seem like a cakewalk compared to the Reed boys.”
Brendon leaned into her, his eyes locked on her lips. “I’ll take my chances,” he whispered and moved in.
Should have kept his eyes open, though. It would have prevented him from going face-first into his couch.
By the time he sat up, she had his front door open.
“Where are you going?”
“My momma says to hell in a handbasket, but I’m fightin’ that.”

Unlike in “A Christmas Pride,” the characters in “Shaw’s Tail” don’t seem particularly ambitious beyond following the relatively modest but amusing story arc. Not that the story is completely superficial, but the sharp edges of the humor keep a lot of excess emotional drama at a distance in both positive and negative ways. Although I did find the twist to the subplot involving Brendon’s brother both unexpected and satisfying, and I would love to see him get his own happy ending someday.

While I would not speculate that the problems in the first novella stem from trying to push the story and characters further, the strength of this book as a whole is absolutely expressed in the second story. Had I not read three versions of “Shaw’s Tail” already (in the Pack Challenge books), it would have been a wonderfully different experience for me as a reader. I hope that with more books, the weaknesses that plague the first novella will give way to stronger prose and greater depth of plotting and characterization, along with the polished humor evident in the second work. I look forward to a book that effectively combines all of these elements, but in the meantime, I have to give “Christmas Pride” a D and “Shaw’s Tail” a B-, averaging out to a very low C/C-.

~Janet

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!

6 Comments

  1. TeddyPig
    Oct 10, 2007 @ 18:34:59

    I would review this book but I ain’t reviewing no DRMed pdf files.

    Did you see the warning on Fictionwise regarding this pdf?!?

    I swear it almost seems to read DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK. Honestly folks in publishing. Drop the DRM or the total mass of new eBook reader formats coming on the market combined with your silly choices in DRM is gonna become a nightmare for the eBook sales department.

    Anyway, I almost wanted to flip your grades for both stories. I thought Shaw’s Tail almost too perfunctory but I liked the female characters in it a hell of a lot more.

    I thought A Christmas Pride was more complete story wise but, like you, I thought the heroine had was weaker than I expect of a Laurenston creation.

    ReplyReply

  2. Robin
    Oct 10, 2007 @ 19:57:12

    Teddy, I think I know what you mean, but how did you think CP was “more complete story wise”? There was just so much in that story I had a hard time with, that I know it seemed a lot longer than ST, but it seemed really unfinished to me. I definitely agree with you about the female characters in ST, but one thing I was thinking about today was how so many of the women in these stories hovered in the crazy zone. It’s just that some of them are happy crazy while others are crazy crazy. Sort of like the happy drunk v. the violent drunk — is the happy drunk really healthy? Dez wasn’t a crazy woman, and I wonder what she would have been like without all that strange ex-husband baggage.

    ReplyReply

  3. Anji
    Oct 11, 2007 @ 07:09:53

    I found it on Books on Board as a Mobipocket book, and since I’d enjoyed her Pack Challenge books, I was really excited about the books. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the first story – I had the same problems you had. I started skimming pages just to get to the end. I didn’t start the second story, fearing it would be much the same. I’m glad you enjoyed it though, so that gives me hope. Still, I think I’m going to wait til the memory of the first story has faded before I tackle the second story.

    I would like some non-crazy, or at least less-crazy characters in her stories – otherwise it’s more of the same and I know I’ll start tiring of reading about the same kind of characters repeatedly. Let’s hope this was a blip, and her next book is stronger.

    ReplyReply

  4. TeddyPig
    Oct 11, 2007 @ 11:15:25

    Teddy, I think I know what you mean, but how did you think CP was “more complete story wise”?

    More development in my mind. Their relationship seemed fuller to me.
    Maybe just because their was more character arc there and description of their feelings for each other through the story and less discussion with others describing it “he loves you” or “she loves you” and more actions between them showing this at work.

    It’s the old, don’t tell me, show me, deal… So the writer showing me works ten times better *for me, but I’m insane* than the writer telling me.

    ReplyReply

  5. raspberry swyrl
    Oct 11, 2007 @ 12:44:54

    See I was first introduced to this author by this site and was rather excited about this new release, so I have to admit it was a bit of a letdown. (and I even got a fellow blogger to buy it…) The one thing that kind of annoyed me in the first story was how quickly Dez accepted that Mace was a lion. I mean some guy shifts into a lion in front of me and I might have a lot of issues with this. I mean your whole world has to realign its self to accept that shapeshifters exist and that you are currently shagging one of them. I can't remember, but did they not have sex soon after that? I personally might need a couple of hours or so to absorb it all. At least with the second one they were both shifters. I wonder if it was like this in the actual novels?? I do still want to eventually buy the only other pack challenge novel that my bookstore sells online but it will not be with as eager anticipation.

    ReplyReply

  6. Robin
    Oct 12, 2007 @ 11:11:53

    I would like some non-crazy, or at least less-crazy characters in her stories – otherwise it's more of the same and I know I'll start tiring of reading about the same kind of characters repeatedly. Let's hope this was a blip, and her next book is stronger.

    What is instructive to me about this book is that the move from ebook to NY print pub doesn’t necessarily = a better book. And yeah, I’d love to see her writing develop beyond the crazy women characters, much as I’ve enjoyed them.

    It's the old, don't tell me, show me, deal… So the writer showing me works ten times better *for me, but I'm insane* than the writer telling me.

    I realized reading ME that showing and not telling is only part of what makes a complete story for me, especially when the piece is IMO disabled by a number of other significant issues. I agree with you that at a bare bones level (like if you reverse outlined the story), CP is a fuller arc, but at a substantive level what comprised that arc defeated its own purpose — to me, at least.

    The one thing that kind of annoyed me in the first story was how quickly Dez accepted that Mace was a lion. I mean some guy shifts into a lion in front of me and I might have a lot of issues with this. I mean your whole world has to realign its self to accept that shapeshifters exist and that you are currently shagging one of them. I can't remember, but did they not have sex soon after that?

    Yup, they had sex RIGHT after that. I didn’t mention this in my review (it’s a tough line expressing enough to justify a below average grade without spoiling the book or appearing to dump on it), but that aspect of the story didn’t work for me, either, not only because Dez’s reaction was so subdued, but also because the justification seemed weak to me: well, at least you’re honest — let’s boink. It just felt like Mace and Dez were being maneuvered into having sex that first time so that the rest of the story could be propelled by the bouts of sex (and IMO not very hot sex, at that).

    That set up, BTW, is not the same as in the Pack Challenge books, whee the human/shifter dynamics are, IMO, MUCH more strongly developed. In fact, in the last book (Here Kitty, Kitty), there are some really nice moments when the heroine observes the hero in his cat form and interacts with him, reading his body language in a way that makes the affectionate exchange fresh, IMO.

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: