This month's TBR Challenge Theme is " Series Catch-up" but for some reason I had it wrong. Maybe I looked at the theme list from a past year, but for most of the month I thought I was supposed to be reading and reviewing a "new to me author". I did read and I will be reviewing a new to me author next week, but it isn't fair to call it a TBR challenge book because it is an ARC that was submitted to me for review consideration. I do have the latest installment of a couple of series languishing in Kindle right now from auto-buy authors but not even the challenge could inspire me to dig them out, I'm just not in the right mood.
What I did this month was go on PNR bender. On my reading binge, I ended up filling in the gaps in few series I have been haphazardly enjoying over the past few years. I took advantage of my Scribd trial month to catch up Jessica Sims "Midnight Liaisons" books, finish up couple of Vivian Arend's PNR series, but what I read the most were books off Shelley Laurenston's backlist.
I discovered Laurenston when I impulsively requested the last of the Pride books via of NetGalley right when I first started reviewing. I was completely unfamiliar with Laurenston & the Pride series when I received the ARC of "Bite Me" with its honey-badger heroine and its Bear & Tiger hybrid hero. The story like the series was delightfully bonkers, the characters over the top and full of pulse-pounding action. Despite the long running plots tying the series together I suspect that reading them in random order has only increased my enjoyment of the series.
One of my favorite things about the series is that Laurenston doesn't place former protagonists on pedestals. Most series books I know I have read, have former protagonist make small cameos, occasionally coming in to help the hero and heroine. They are always happy and often juggling babies. It is liberating to read a long running series where the former protagonists can serve as antagonists or create complications for the current protagonists, and keep their HEAs because there HEAs are not to simply live in some sort of conflict free state of happy limbo. Former starring couples don't often get along with each other, and some in fact actively hate the new protagonists. My second favorite thing about the series is how effortlessly multi-cultural and multi-racial the world is. The diversity in Laurenston's books is not simply limited to having different kinds of shifters, but also actually having protagonists of color.
These are the Laurenston books I read last month:
- The Mane Squeeze Gwen is Lion/Tiger hybrid who has served and protected her mother' Pride for years without really belonging to it. She catches the attention of Loch MacRyrie, a Grizzly bear shifter, because she has absolutely no fear of him. Gwen is being targeted by some of her mother's old Derby enemies and Loch ends up getting involved. I loved that Loch's mother is ball-busting feminist professor with an adoring husband and how they aid Loch is his quest to win over Gwen's over-protected heart. Despite being big and powerful, Loch is sweet, thoughtful and a bit neurotic.
- Beast Behaving Badly : Blayne is Gwen's best-friend and is an irrepressible and unpredictable Wolf-dog hybrid. Bo Novikov is one of the most vicious and dangerous hockey players in the all shifter-hockey league and not much nicer off the ice. All Bo cares about is hockey and his own hockey success, till Blayne careens back into his life. I love that this story sort of plays around with the fated mates idea, and has a ton of fun with it. Bo and Blayne spotted each other across a crowded room over 10 years before, and Blayne ran for the hills rather than try to figure out why this massive Lion/Bear hybrid was staring at her so intently. Bo is certain if she hadn't run, he wouldn't be the player he is because he would have stop caring about anything else.
This time Blayne isn't running from Bo but coming after Bo for help. Needing to up her competitive edge in order to help her Derby team secure a championship, Blayne wants Bo to help her train the niceness out of her. Despite the fact that the protagonists of all the other books pretty much hate Bo and are often annoyed and overwhelmed by Blayne, I just loved them. They are probably one of my favorite couples in the Pride series. They are opposites in many ways but they both see past each other's most annoying qualities and just accept and value each other.
I didn't like Magnus Pack stories nearly as much as I had the Pride books. They felt darker and less fresh with the exception of the Miss Congeniality short story.
- Pack Challenge: Sara Morrighan is wolf shifter, she just doesn't know it. Orphaned as child and raised by a hateful and vicious grand-mother, Sara doesn't know the truth or much of anything about her past. When Zach Sheridan rolls into town with his the Mangus Pack, Sara's life changes forever.
Half of this story is really about Sara's parents and the enemies they made while they lead the Magnus Pack and the other half is about Sara and Zach fighting their attraction to each other, and helping accept her wolf nature, while trying to fight of assassins targeting Sara.
- Go Fetch! Sara's best friend Miki is a former hacker with a genius IQ about to defend her dissertation. She has two problems, one is pack of Hyenas that inexplicably interested her and the second is Conall Viga-Feilan, Zach's second in command, who Sara is trying to set her up with. While Miki is incredibly attracted to Conall, she know he is dangerous to her ( as she fears getting involved with any man lest she end up unexpectedly pregnant and alone like her mother did). She tries to fend him verbally abusing him, and even drugging him, but all that does is make him admire her more. It is a hero in hot pursuit story with a heroine who is determined not to be caught. The suspense plot was weak and confusing, and I was mostly skimmed till the Dr. Irene Conridge and Van Holtz pack family showed up.
- Here Kitty, Kitty Angelina Santiago is the last of Sara's best-friends. She is accidentally kidnapped by a pair of Tigers trying to rescue her from Hyena attack . Sara's pack can't go get her, as they are in the middle of their own crisis, so she has to hang out with the Tigers. She is taking out her frustration by taunting the Tigers' older brother, and spending his money, while helping the felines around town fashion makeovers. And that is about where I stopped reading. Sadly while all the other Pride books were easy to read format, this book was only available as PDF on Scribd and it is was crazy hard to read. So I stopped reading because I honestly didn't like Angelina or her Tiger host Nikolai enough to persevere.
- When He Was Bad anthology – “Miss Congeniality” Dr. Irene Conridge and Niles Van Holtz are odd couple pair who had supporting roles in the Pride series. Irene Conridge is a brilliant chemist and researcher, whose ideas are highly coveted by Cold War era rivals. Niles Van Holtz is a millionaire playboy whose family are long-time financial supporters of her work at the local university. Niles has long enjoyed baiting her into flirty conversations, while Irene is determine to avoid sex ( a boring chore in her experience) or any kind of emotional involvement ( a useless distraction from her work). It is an opposites attract /fake mate story. Niles marks her as his mate in order to protect her when she inadvertently angers a Hyena pack while trying to destroy some of her dangerous research. Niles is shocked to discover that there is magic to the mating bond, and now has to persuade her to give them a chance as couple.
- Belong to the Night Anthology – “The Wolf, The Witch, And Her Lack of Wardrobe” In this short story Jaime Meacham is power-hungry witch whose coven has entered a partnership with a community of shifters to protect them from intruders. Tully Smith is the easy-going mayor of the community who needs to make sure Jaime's thirst for magical power will not endanger them all. This short story packed a lot of plot in very few pages. There is a plot by Tully's estranged father to invade and capture the town, Jaime is embroiled is being harassed by supernatural creatures after she insulted the wrong godling. It had some of the same zaniness of the Pride series with a darker flavor.
Howl For it Anthology -- "Like a Wolf with a Bone" Another flashback story, this is the story of about how Eggie Ray Smith & Darla Lewis, the parents deadly & dangerous DeeAnn Smith from the Pride books got together. Eggie is on temporary leave from his shifter-only military assassin unit, when he rescues Darla Lewis from attackers. He brings her to his house with him rather than risk her being attacked again. Before long Darla is making herself at home, and making the place a home for Eggie. She sees goodness in Eggie no one else sees, and Eggie doesn't want to let her go, even if he doesn't think he deserves to touch a hair on her head. The story was sweet and fun and fit right in with the rest of the Pride books.
I know PNR books are not for everybody but I love them when they are done right and Shelley Laurenston does is better than most.