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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Terry Spear: HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES


Author:  Terry Spear
Series:  HEART OF THE WOLF
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2-3
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks
           Heart of the Wolf (4/2008)
           Destiny of the Wolf (3/2009)
           To Tempt the Wolf (9/2009)
           Legend of the White Wolf (2/2010)
           Seduced by the Wolf (8/2010)
           Wolf Fever (12/2010)
           Heart of the Highland Wolf (6/2011)
           Dreaming of the Wolf (12/2011)
           A SEAL in Wolf's Clothing (3/2012)
           A Howl for the Highlander (2/2013)
           A Highland Werewolf Wedding (5/2013)
           A SEAL Wolf Christmas (9/2013)
           Silence of the Wolf (2/2014) 
           Hero of a Highland Wolf (8/2014)
           A Highland Wolf Christmas (10/2014)
           SEAL Wolf Hunting (7/2015)
           A Silver Wolf Christmas (10/2015) 
           SEAL Wolf in Too Deep (2/2016)
           Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply (5/2016)

A NOTE ABOUT SUB-SERIES: Within the HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES there are several sub-series based on where the novels take place. In my overview of the World-Building, I have included a color-coded list of all of the novels so that you can identify each sub-series: Hunter Greymere's pack in Oregon; Darien Silver's pack in Silver Town, Colorado; Cameron MacPherson's pack in Seattle; Paul Cunningham's pack in Bigfork, Montana; and Ian MacNeill's pack in Scotland. Recently, the publisher has begun to market the Silver Town novels as a separate series entitled SILVER TOWN WOLF, although early Silver Town novels are labeled as HEART OF THE WOLF novels. I will continue to include reviews of all of Spear's WOLF novels in this ongoing post.

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 5/5/2016 to include a review of Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply, the 19th novel in the HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES (and also the sixth novel in the SILVER TOWN WOLVES sub-series). That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 7 through 18.

                         NOVEL 19:  Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply                         
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
There's a new wolf pack in Silver Territory... 
Wolf shifter and park ranger Eric Silver is committed to his job policing spectacular San Isabel National Forest, and he's hot on the scent of some mysterious wolves who are up to no good. When Eric's investigation leads him to cross paths with forester Pepper Grayling, he's fascinated to learn this she-wolf is her pack's leader-strong, independent, and definitely not looking for a mate.

And this time the leader is a she
With unknown dangers on the prowl, Pepper is tempted to give in to her attraction to Eric and align her pack with his. But Pepper's been pursued by many an alpha male out to take over her pack and gain her hard-won territory-and Eric is a born leader. How does Eric earn the trust of a she-wolf who's been betrayed so often in the past?

MY REVIEW: 
     Once again, a big bad wolf is stalking the novel's heroine, and the hero must help her get rid of her unwanted suitor. In this story, Pepper Grayling is the alpha of a small pack located four hours away from Silver Town. Eric Silver  (cousin of the Silver Town pack leader) is a park ranger in a forest located two hours from Silver Town. The two meet when Eric is attacked by two wolves when he discovers their marijuana field in the forest. After he kills the two wolves and phones in a report to his brother, the Silver Town deputy sheriff, he hears another wolf "yip" for help, and he runs off to rescue a female wolf who was injured in a rock slide. When he carries the injured wolf back to her camp, he finds a wolf pack led by the beautiful Pepper. Although the two are immediately attracted to one another, both are cautious. Pepper isn't looking for another mate because she has been approached before by alpha males who want to mate her just to take over her pack and her lands. Eric is more eager about getting together with Pepper, but he has to give her time to realize that he isn't like all those other alphas. Meanwhile, Pepper is being pursued by an alpha named Waldron who moved into the area two weeks ago and is determined to mate with her. Eric suspects that Waldron is involved in the marijuana operation, but he needs evidence to prove that his suspicions are correct.

     The story meanders along at a very slow pace with Waldron and his pack members lurking out of sight in the forest and the lead couple getting to know one another. A major implausibility that pops up early on is that no one knows where Waldron and his pack are living. How is that possible when the wolves are so good at tracking scents? This mystery is never explored or explained (mostly because Spear needs it to be true to carry the plot all the way to the end). That climactic ending, by the way, is really more like an anti-climax because it's over so quickly, and contains very few descriptive details. Indeed, we hardly even get to know Waldron. He appears as a human only once and as a wolf very briefly in a few other scenes. Mostly, he's just a threatening scent in the woods.

     Here is another major problem with the plot: Spear states several times that Eric and Pepper "lived four hours apart," but she is never specific about whether "four hours" means in a car, on four feet, or on two feet. No matter which of those she means, the time line of the story never adds up. Four hours by car would mean that the packs would be as far apart as Cleveland and Cincinnati (about 250 miles), while four hours on foot means that Pepper's pack is about 16 miles from Silver Town (at a walking rate of 15 minutes per mile). Eric and Pepper are constantly going back and forth between Silver Town and Pepper's pack location within short periods of time, so it is impossible for the distance to be 250 miles. On the other hand, no one in Silver Town has ever heard of Pepper and her pack, and vice versa, so it makes no sense that the two packs are just 16 miles apart. This huge discrepancy weakens the plot tremendously because it decimates two of the main plot elements: the fact that Eric and Pepper have never met (never even knew the other existed) and the fact that they move quickly between their two homes.  

     For me, this is the weakest book in the series so far. Eric is such a Dudley Do-Right that his character soon becomes kind of boring. He is definitely not the same bossy, opinionated alpha that we saw in A Silver Wolf Christmas. Although Pepper is brave in battle and good at her job, she is so indecisive and unsettled in her personal life that it's hard to believe that she can effectively run a pack. Unlike past novels in which the lead lovers had personality and a sense of humor, this book falls flat. After a long getting-to-know-you period, they eventually share some passionate moments, so if you read this series for its sexy bedroom scenes, don't give up because you'll find several of those very late in the story.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

                          WORLD-BUILDING                          
     In each book, a werewolf alpha graphically explores his emotional and sexual relationship with his soul mate while constantly battling his self-doubts about the relationship and fending off other male werewolves who want the heroine for themselves. Meanwhile, the heroine has quite a few doubts of her own. Some heroines are human, but others are werewolves, although not always of the same type as the hero (e.g., one might be red, while the other is gray). Some characters appear in more than one book due to pack relationships and geographical proximity.

     The books move back and forth between Scotland (the Highlander titles) and the U.S. west coast, particularly the Pacific Northwest. Occasionally a plot line from one book will be referenced in a later book.

     Spear writes classic werewolf romances. She gets everything right about the pack dynamics, and her plots are compelling, with many characters—and especially the heroine—in danger up until the very end from a variety of villainous scoundrels. 


     Destiny of the Wolf won Honorable Mention for Shapeshifter Romance in the 2009 P.E.A.R.L. Awards (Paranormal Excellence Award for Romantic Literature).


     Here are the couples who bond romantically in each book. The titles are color-coded by pack and setting: Hunter Greymere's pack in Oregon; Darien Silver's pack in Silver Town, Colorado; Cameron MacPherson's pack in Seattle; Paul Cunningham's pack in Bigfork, Montana; and Ian MacNeill's pack in Scotland.
   >Heart of the Wolf: Devlyn Greystoke and Bella Wilder
   >Destiny of the Wolf: Darien Silver (Silver pack leader) and Lelandi Wildhaven 
   >To Tempt the Wolf: Hunter Greymere and Tessa Anderson
   >Legend of the White Wolf: Cameron MacPherson and Faith O’Mallery
   >Seduced by the Wolf: Leidolf Wildhaven (Lelandi's brother) and Cassie Roux
   >Wolf Fever: Ryan McKinley and Carol Woods
   >Heart of the Highland Wolf: Ian MacNeill and Julia Wildthorn (romance writer)
   >Dreaming of the Wolf: Jake Silver (Darien's brother) and Alicia Greiston
   >A SEAL in Wolf's Clothing: Meara Greymere (Hunter’s twin sister) and Finn Emerson (formerly of Hunter Greymere’s pack)
   >A Howl for the Highlander: Duncan MacNeill (Ian's brother) and Shelley Campbell
   >A Highland Wolf Wedding: Cearnach MacNeill (Ian's brother) & Elaine Hawthorne
   >A SEAL Wolf Christmas: Bjornolf Jorgenson & Anna Johnson
   > Silence of the Wolf: Tom Silver & Elizabeth Wildwood, a red wolf/coyote hybrid
   > Hero of a Highland Wolf: Grant MacQuarrie (Ian MacNeill's neighbor) & Colleen Playfair (friend of Julia Whildthorn) 
   > A Highland Wolf Christmas: Guthrie MacNeill (Ian's frugal brother) & Calla Stewart (extravagant party planner)
   > SEAL Wolf Hunting: Paul Cunningham (former Navy SEAL) & Lori Greypaw
   > A Silver Wolf Christmas: CJ Silver & Laurel MacTire
   > SEAL Wolf in Too Deep: Allan Rappaport & Debbie Renaud
   > Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply: Eric Silver & Pepper Grayling

                          NOVEL 6:  Wolf Fever                          
     Brief synopsis: Pack leader Ryan McKinley, who was involved in the plot of Destiny of the Wolf, revisits Darien Silver’s pack in Silver Town to rekindle his relationship with Carol Woods, a human nurse who was bitten and changed during the climactic ending of Destiny of the Wolf.

                          NOVEL 7:  Heart of the Highland Wolf                          
     The seventh book is, unfortunately, an extremely weak book in an otherwise strong series. This one turns away from the American wolf packs and transports us to Scotland, where Ian MacNeill and his three brothers (they're quadruplets) live with their pack in their ancestral castle. After they are swindled out of most of their savings by a dishonest financier, Ian is forced to rent the castle grounds to an American film company that is making a historical highland romance movie. Among the moviemakers' employees is Julia (aka Julia Wildthorn, aka Julia MacPherson, aka Iris North) whose BFF is one of the production staff. Julia is a paranormal fiction author who writes werewolf romances, and she plans to set her next novel in a Scottish castle. The twist to the story is that both Ian's family and Julia's family are werewolves. 

     As the story unwinds, we learn that Julia has ulterior motives for wanting to visit Ian's castle. She is actually in search of an ancient document that relates to her family heritage. The whole secret-document premise is fluffy to the point of silliness. Supposedly, the centuries-old document has to do with ancient betrothal rights, and even though it is totally non-binding at this point in time, it is made to seem terribly important to these modern-day werewolves. So important, in fact, that Ian's greatest enemy, Basil Sutherland, uses it as a pretense to claim Julia as his mate. Obviously, that isn't going to happen, because Ian and Julia fall immediately in lust, even though she lies to him incessantly throughout most of the book. 


     Although the story takes place in the present, the rivalrous werewolf packs battle with ancient swords (claymores) rather than with modern weapons. Julia is a dizzy, air-headed heroine who seems to think she is living in the romance-fiction world of her novels. Her actions are so off the wall that at one point she breaks into the tunnels under Ian's castle in search of the document only to remember belatedly that her grandfather told her it was hidden on the third floor, a memory lapse that is totally unbelievable. At the very end of the story, a tiny connection is made with the rest of the series when Leidolf Wildhaven and Cassie Roux (from Seduced by the Wolf) show up at a book signing to invite Ian and Julia to dinner. My advice is to skip this mishmash of a book, particularly since it has no real relationship to the rest of the series.


                          BOOK 8: Dreaming of the Wolf                          
     In the eighth book, we're back with the Silver Town pack, specifically with Jake, Darien's brother, who meets and falls for a human woman who has gotten herself mixed up with some mobsters. Alicia Greiston is a relatively inexperienced bounty hunter who is going after the mobsters who murdered her mother. She meets Jake in a restaurant where he steps up to rescue her from one of the mob leader's goons, and mutual lustfulness quickly follows between them. Alicia's interactions with the mobsters get confusing at times because these guys are mostly related to one another and Spear holds back on some crucial information until late in the book. Suffice it to say, Alicia is constantly in danger, and one of her mob-thug encounters changes her life forever. Usually, though, Jake is there to rescue her. 

     Once again, one of the Silver triplets has mating dreams that turn into an HEA. Outside of the mobster identity confusion, the characters are improbably allowed to make huge jumps in logic and come to conclusions that aren't really supported by the handful of facts at hand. Otherwise, this is a typical chapter for this series in which werewolf love always conquers all. There's only one Silver brother left, so Tom will probably dreaming about his mate in one of the next few books. There is a one-sentence connection between this book and the previous one. Would you believe that among Alicia's possessions are "her treasured werewolf romance books by Julia Wildthorn"?


                          NOVEL 9:  A SEAL in Wolf's Clothing                          
     When Hunter Greymere and Tessa Anderson (stars of To Tempt the Wolf) head off to Hawaii for their honeymoon, they leave the pack in the hands of two sub wolves, and Hunter turns his cottage-rental business over to his twin sister, Meara, whom we also met in To Tempt the Wolf. Meara was then, and is now, an impetuous, impulse-driven woman, and her current project is to find a mate before Hunter returns home and interferes with her passionate plans. Meara has booked eligible, sexy, alpha male wolves into the five rental cabins, and she plans choose one of them as her mate. Unfortunately, her scheme goes awry when Finn Emerson, Hunter's SEAL buddy, shows up to protect her from an assassin who has already shot one of Hunter's team members. Both Hunter and Finn are sure that the assassin will go after Meara to get at Finn, because Hunter is the SEAL team leader and the only one with a family. From this point on, the plot gets bogged down with multiple villains, each of whom has his own evil reasons for killing/injuring/kidnapping Meara. 

     Meara herself is one of the most ineffective heroines in the series so far. Although she deeply resents the fact that Hunter and Finn will not confide in her, she presents herself as a caricature of a husband-hunting, petulant shrew. She's beautiful and intelligent, but she's also capricious and frequently irresponsible. Although she is supposed to be an excellent shooter and keeps a rifle under her bed, she never gets to use it. The only defensive behavior she shows during the entire story is an ear-splitting scream. 


     Finn is the ultimate lone-wolf alpha, with no family but his fellow SEALS. He has always lived a life of adventure and has pretty much decided that he will never mate—which, in a paranormal romance novel, means that he definitely will, and sooner rather than later. As Finn and Meara hide out in a safe house, they lust after one another and eventually fall in love. The major plot points reach back to events that took place in To Tempt the Wolf. The resolution of the plot comes in one talky scene when one of the villains spills the beans to Meara about the motives and plans of the various villains. There is no single climactic battle; the plot just gradually fizzles out.

      This is another of the weaker books in this series. Here's an analogy: Did you ever try to pack an odd-shaped, over-sized object into a square box? In a sense, that's what the author did here. She took a weirdly convoluted story with villains, motives, and deceits sticking out all over at odd angles and then manipulated it into a standard romance plot. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite fit, and it winds up looking misshapen and feeling awkward and unbelievable. I'm all in favor of complexity in plots, but that complexity must be shaped in a manner that feels natural and flows smoothly—and that's not the case here. The next book goes back to the Highlands where another one of the MacNeill brothers finds his true love. Let's hope that plot has better form and structure than this one.

                        NOVEL 10:  A Howl for the Highlander                          

     Although this is the love story of Duncan MacNeill, the youngest of the Scottish MacNeill quadruplets, it is not set in Scotland, but in the Cayman Islands, where Duncan has gone to track down the crooked werewolf financier who swindled his clan out of millions of dollars. The MacNeill brothers have been trying to find Salisbury Silverman for months, and they have finally discovered that he is holed up on his well-guarded estate on Grand Cayman Island. The Caymans are notorious for their protective stance toward offshore financial investments so it's a perfect place for a dishonest money manipulator to hide out. The slim action plot involves Duncan's efforts to corner Silverman and get the clan's money back. In a secondary story line, Silverman makes a romantic play for Shelley and butts heads with Duncan in the process.

     As soon as Duncan enters the island's airport, he scents a female wolf, and the lust/love part of story begins. Shelley Campbell, an American wolf, is a botany professor at a small college in Texas, and she is in the Caymans to photograph plant life and to continue her search for a plant or herb that will ease the need of werewolves to shift during the full moon. She was supposed to receive enough grant money to pay for her private cottage, but Silverman stole that money, too. When Duncan's hotel reservation falls through, Shelly offers him her spare room if he pays half the rent. That's the beginning of their relationship, and it quickly spins into a mating. Most of the book follows the development of their romance as they take in the tropical sights and engage in some midnight swims, daytime flirtations, and passionate kisses. They hold off on their consummation until later in the book, though, because in this world, when two werewolves have sex they are automatically mated for life.


     The conflict between the lovers is based on hate-filled legends told to Shelley by her small family pack, which includes just her mother and two uncles. All her life, her blue-collar family has ranted against the wealthy lairds in the Scottish Highlands who (in the 1800s) forcibly displaced many hard-working crofters (tenant farmers) from their lands because they found it more profitable to raise sheep. (Click HERE to read more about that historical dispute.) At first (very briefly), Shelley is horrified that she is falling for a land-rich castle-dwelling Scottish laird, but that soon ceases to be a problem—until, that is, her family finds out about her romance.


     This is a stronger book than the previous two because the leading characters are smarter and don't stumble into any TSTL situations. Duncan is a determined warrior, falling for Shelley but trying not to lose his focus on retrieving his family's funds. Shelley is a strong heroine who is the antithesis of the air-headed heroines of the previous two books. Together they form an unbeatable team that is able to defeat not only the villain, but the bigotry within Shelley's family.


     The two remaining MacNeill brothers are still unmated. Cearnach's story will be told in the next book (A Highland Wolf Wedding), so that will leave just Guthrie, the financial genius of the family. (Ironically, he's the one who was fooled by Silverman's financial duplicity.)


                          NOVEL 11:   A Highland Wolf Wedding                          

     In this book, Cearnach, the third of the quadruplet MacNeill brothers, finds his mate, leaving just one more brother to go (Guthrie). The action in the first 179 pages takes place during a single eventful day when Cearnach gets run off the road by Elaine Hawthorne (his soon-to-be mate), crashes a wedding filled with McKinley enemies, gets marooned in a ruined castle with Elaine, and brings her home in wolf form to meet his extended family. Oh, by the way, Elaine and Cearnach met briefly back in the 1700s when she accompanied her two privateer uncles to Scotland and then had to run away when they were hanged for their crimes. And one more thing: Elaine is a cousin of the MacNeill family's bitter enemies, the McKinley clan. It's always fun to have a few familial complications to liven up the plot. 

     Elaine has come to Scotland at the invitation of her skeevy cousin, Robert McKinley, to find the treasure that her long-dead uncles supposedly hid somewhere in Scotland. When Robert and his brothers steal her car and treat her very badly before they learn who she is, Elaine turns against them and finds comfort with Cearnach and his family. Well...with Cearnach she finds a great deal more than just comfort.

     The plot centers around the treasure hunt, with the McKinley clan causing all sorts of trouble along the way. You'll probably figure out the ending's little twist well before it occurs, but it's still a compelling read, with lots of action and plenty of hot bedroom scenes. A dramatic story arc involving a thwarted romance and a stalking ex-boyfriend begins in this book, carries on through Hero of a Highland Wolf, and finishes up in A Highland Wolf Christmas. The heroine in that romance is Calla Stewart, an American wolf knew the MacNeills when she was a child, and who has just returned to the Highlands to live.

     Spear excels at writing paranormal romances, mainly because she always comes up with action-filled plots and because she takes the time to develop her characters well beyond the usual stereotypes we find in other series. If you loved the other books in the series, you'll probably enjoy this one. New readers shouldn't have any trouble jumping right in with this book because, although there are a few passing references to past incidents, they have little to do with the plot of this book.

     The next book turns its back on the Highlanders and takes us back to the Navy SEALS, last heard from in book 9, A SEAL in Wolf's Clothing.

                          NOVEL 12:  A SEAL Wolf Christmas                          
     The previous two books were set in the Highlands of Scotland, but now we're back in Oregon with Hunter Greyson and his gray wolves. In this story, we have a mix of deep soul-mate love between the hero and heroine; romantic angst between a pair of teenagers; a down-and-dirty mystery involving sex, drugs, and murder; and the birth of Christmas babies

     The story's hero is Bjornolf Jorgenson, and his true love is Anna Johnson. The couple met briefly in A SEAL in Wolf's Clothing, at which time Bjornolf got the best of Anna and tied her up with her own pantyhose after she mistook him for an assassin. There were sparks between them then, and in this book those sparks become a roaring fire. Bjornolf has always been a loner. He has spent the past decades shadowing military teams to protect their perimeters during dangerous missions. He always keeps out of sight, and the soldiers rarely even realize that he is there. Anna is a skilled operative who frequently accompanies Hunter's SEAL team on their missions. When Hunter's team sets out for the Amazon Rain Forest to rescue a (supposedly) kidnapped family, Meara (Hunter's sister) begs Bjornolf to protect Hunter and her husband (Finn).


     The Rain Forest rescue is the focus of the first few chapters, and it is soon obvious that the rescued familythe wealthy Wentworthsare not telling the whole truth about their situation. Regardless, Hunter and his team drop them off at an American embassy and head back to Oregon. Hunter has been notified by Nathan, a young werewolf, that he has detected the odor of dead werewolves in the woods near the Christmas tree farm at which he is employed, on land that is in Hunter's territory. Nathan is an orphan whom Bjornolf rescued in a previous book, and he has developed an attachment to Bjornolf. Hunter sends Bjornolf and Anna undercoveras Nathan's newly wed aunt and uncleto get to the bottom of the deaths. 

     Both Bjornolf and Anna have family-related tragedies in their pasts. Anna's bad experience has caused her to avoid Christmas and all its trappings, and Bjornolf and Nathan are determined to change her mind about the holiday. Eventually, Bjornolf and Anna share their sad secrets and head for their HEA, but not before Anna is put in deadly danger.

     In a secondary story thread, Nathan has formed a romantic attachment to the adopted daughter of the farm's owner. In paranormal fiction, every time a character is adopted, we know that the biological parents' identities will become an essential story element, and that's exactly what happens here. The teenage romance remains on the sidelines for most of the story, but eventually becomes an integral part of the main plot. Adding to the Christmas theme, Hunter and Tessa's twins are due any day nowand what day do you think they pick to make their entrance into the world?

     Many characters from former books turn up in this story as supporting characters: Hunter and Tessa; Leidolf Wildhaven; Henry Thompson, the human hunter who once imprisoned Leidolf and his wife in a zoo in the belief that they were wild wolves; Meara and Finn Emerson; and even grumpy Duncan MacNeill and plant-specialist Shelley Campbell (by phone from Scotland).

     This is a stronger story than some of the recent ones, mainly because of the strength and depth of the lead characters and because the action part of the plot is just as important as the romance. The interaction among Bjornolf, Anna, and Nathan is humorous and heartwarming without being sappy, and the complexity of the murder mystery adds just the right amount of action and suspense to the proceedings. 


     Unfortunately, there are a few holes in the plot (particularly in the big showdown scene at the end). For example, Bjornolf and Anna spend some time exploring a woman's house, but when that woman unintentionally leaves her scent in their own home, neither recognizes it. Also, William Wentworth's motivations in the final scene are not at all clear. It's hard to imagine that this hard-hearted villain would rush to anyone's rescue. With those exceptions, this is a well-told story and a strong addition to the series. 

     Note to all those readers who can't figure out how to pronounce Bjornolf's name. He pronounces it for little Elsie Wentworth on p. 10: "I'm Bjornolf," he said, carefully pronouncing his name Byee-or-nulf so she'd understand it." 

                          NOVEL 13:  Silence of the Wolf                          

     This novel takes us for another visit with the Silver pack, whom we have not visited since Wolf Fever, when Ryan and Carol got together. The three leaders of the Silver pack are triplet brothers: Darien (the pack leader), Jake, and Tom (the youngest). Both Darien and Jake first made contact with their mates through the dream world, but even though Tom was the only one of the brothers to truly believe in the dream-mating process, he actually meets his mate face to face in the real world in the first chapter of this book.

     Elizabeth Wildwood is a red wolf/coyote hybrid with a tragic family history. After her father's first mate died, he mated with Elizabeth's mother, a coyote. Because of the intense hostility between wolves and coyotes, her father's red-wolf pack shunned the family, which also included Sefton, Elizabeth's half-brother from her father's first mating. When Elizabeth was born, the pack hatred became so intense that Elizabeth's parents moved a short distance away, leaving Sefton (who despises Elizabeth and her mother) to live with his Uncle Quinton. Quinton is the brother of Elizabeth and Sefton's father, and he also hates Elizabeth and her mother. 


     When Elizabeth was 16, her parents were murdered within days of one other. Fearing that she would be next, Elizabeth packed up and ran away to Texas, where she forged a career as a newspaper journalist. Out of the blue, she receives a call from North Redding, a man who tried to court her back when her parents were still alive but who never stood up for her against the bullies who tormented her and her family. North claims to have evidence that Quinton killed her parents, and they arrange to meet at the ski lodge in Silver Town. Although Elizabeth grew up within a day's drive of Silver Town, for some reason Elizabeth does not know that the Silver pack runs the town.


     When Tom agrees to give Elizabeth a ride out to the ski lodge, they have one of those lust-at-first-sight moments and are exchanging passionate kisses within hours of meeting one another. Later, they are even treated to an old, familiar romance trope: alone (for awhile) in an isolated mountain cabin during a blizzard. The romantic relationship develops quickly and smoothly, with only a small amount of angst. Elizabeth is the problematic one in this relationship. She keeps her family history secret from Tom for much of the story. She also has some self-image problems due to her horrific childhood, and at one point she runs back to Texas to keep Tom's family from being endangered by her relatives, but these problems don't have much impact on the development of the romance. The major roadblocks to the romance are the frequent interruptions by the various story strands in the main plot, which are as follows. 


   >> Three unidentified wolves are sniffing around the sheep on farms located on Silver Town land, but they are leaving no scent. The Silver brothers suspect that the men might be three of their four cousins, the run-away sons of the corrupt sheriff Darien killed in a previous book.

    >> Shortly after Elizabeth arrives on the slopes, a man glares menacingly at her on the ski lift, and then another man deliberately slams into her on an icy slope. While she is being treated for her injuries, someone breaks into her room at a local bed and breakfast and steals all of her belongings. 


    >> After Elizabeth has to postpone her meeting with North because of her injuries, he disappears, causing her to believe that Quinton and Sefton have discovered what he plans to do and have either kidnapped or killed him.

    >> Three unidentified wolves come into a local tavern and cause enough trouble that Darien has to kick them out. 

     Plus, add in some heavy snow, a kidnapping, a plane crash, more heavy snow, and three teenagers. The reader must deal with a huge list of suspects for the various shenanigans, and each group involves itself in a number of incomprehensible activities. Who is bothering the farm animals and why? Who is after Elizabeth and why? What has happened to North? Who are the men in the tavern, and why are they in Silver Town? etc., etc.

     Although this book begins with a seemingly straightforward story line, it soon becomes so convoluted that even the author can't keep the details straight. In fact, the plot is as full of pot-holes as a northern Ohio road at the end of a bad winter. (Pardon the local "pot-hole" reference. If you are not familiar with the word, it means that the road has a LOT of big, deep holes.) 

     A prime example of a plot problem is the fact that in some parts of the story, we are told that no one in Elizabeth's father's red-wolf pack knew of her existence, but in other parts we are told that her father's red-wolf pack hated her. For example, when Lelandi (Darien's wife and a former member of that pack) meets Elizabeth, she has no idea who Elizabeth is, even though Elizabeth's father, Quinton, and Sefton had been members of Lelandi's red-wolf pack. Lelandi knows Quinton and Sefton, but says that she was told only that Sefton's father had died. I find this impossible to believe. Everyone in the red-wolf pack would have known the family's story, particularly since it involved a mating with a coyote. Spear tries to make us believe that the red-wolf pack hated Elizabeth's parents so much that they wiped away all memory of them (a complete impossibility). But Elizabeth herself states that she had a number of interactions with pack members. At one point she says that "she'd had to fend for herself against the wolves of her father's pack." (p. 31) She definitely has kept in touch with North, who is one of the red-wolf pack members. Also, we learn that one of the reasons that Quinton and Sefton hate Elizabeth so much is that every time they find likely mates, the she-wolves turn them down because of their connection with a mixed-blood relativeElizabeth. So obviously the red wolves know of Elizabeth's existence. Sorry, Ms. Spear, you can't have it both ways. Either Elizabeth is an outcast who is known and hated by the pack, or she is a loner unknown to the packbut she can't be both. 

     The story is written in the third person alternating between the perspectives of Tom and Elizabethexcept for a few instances when Spear narrates brief scenes from Darien's perspective.


     This would have been an O.K. story if Spear hadn't jammed the plot with so many suspects and story lines. One story line that could have been omitted concerns the run-away cousins. I assume Spear dumped in the cousins so that she would have several sets of suspects, but it just doesn't work. Also, we never really learn the reason why the wolves were sniffing around the farm animals. I could go on and on listing the major plot problems, but it would serve no real purpose here. I'll just say that this is a book with a mountain of continuity problems, contradictions in details, and implausible events. To sort it all out for the reader, Spear has a character explain everything just as the climax is going down. Although that's a rusty, old trope, it is (unfortunately) the only way that the reader can finally figure out what has been going on.


     I have enjoyed some of the earlier books in this series, but it seems that ever since Spear began writing her JAGUAR series intermittently with the WOLF series, her writing has gotten sloppy. Perhaps she is writing the books so quickly that she isn't mapping out her plots in any detail. But where are her beta readers and her editors? Surely someone should have picked up on the numerous plot problems in this book. I'll read the next book, but if it isn't at a much higher level than this one, I'm done with the series. 


                          NOVEL 14:  Hero of a Highland Wolf                          

     We're back in Scotland for a story that is as light and insubstantial as a dollop of Cool Whip on a Pop-Tart. Grant MacQuarrie and his clan/pack have been managing Farraige Castle for centuries, and for the most part they have maintained a smooth relationship with the owners. The exception to that was Theodore Playfair, the arrogant, alcoholic son of the last heiress. Theodore has recently died in a fiery, alcohol-fueled car crash in America, so his daughter, Colleen, is heading for Scotland to claim her inheritance. In order to fulfill the terms of the will, she must spend a year and a day living in Farraige Castle. Having just suffered through Theodore's hellish, but brief, reign, Grant is afraid that Theodore's daughter might be even worse, so he dreams up a scheme to drive her back to her safe American homeland.

     Colleen Playfair is well aware of Grant's scheming because she is a good friend of Julia Wildthorn, wife and mate of Ian MacNeill, Grant's friend and neighbor. Like Grant, Colleen is an alpha, and she refuses to allow Grant to bully her around. Just to make things slightly interesting, Spear throws in a villainous suitorArchibald Borthwickwho has plans to mate Colleen and then take charge of her properties. 


     Like many of the novels in this series, the romance moves quickly forward along a slightly bumpy road filled with misunderstandings and miscommunications. Towards the end, some violence and danger are added to spice things up, but that entire situation is dealt with in just a few pages, so no worries. First and foremost, this book is all about the love story, with just a few bits of action and villainy scattered in to provide some mildly interesting bumps on the way to the lovers' inevitable HEA.


     This is a by-the-numbers paranormal romance that includes characters and situations that we've all seen beforewith the exception of one inane scene in which the women of Ian's clan have a girls-only party that includes dressing up like pirates, running male underwear up a flagpole, and bobbing for apples. I can't imagine how Spear ever came up with this concept and why she would include it. After all, these people are supposed to be mature adults. Grant will be Colleen's third mate, so we can assume that she has progressed well beyond adolescence. Therefore, I have to ask: Why in the world are these women (and men, too) acting like 12-year-olds? I understand that Spear needed a women-only party scene as a plot device, but this one is really ridiculous. 


     One other bothersome plot element is the fact that Colleen, who appears to be in her mid-to-late twenties, has already had two mates, both of whom died "many years ago." (p. 68) Those mates are mentioned only in the context of their beta nature (no names or causes of death), so I guess that's why Spear included them, but it seems odd that such a young woman would have lost two mates so quickly, given that werewolves generally live very long lives. 


     In addition to the romance plot, Colleen also solves a cold-case family murder mystery involving her unwanted suitor and her drunken father. Another story thread briefly returns us to the still-dangerous situation with Calla Stewart's stalkerher former fiancé, Baird—whom we met in a previous Highland book. Calla will be mating with Guthrie in A Highland Wolf Christmas, so that story line should finally be resolved by the end of that book.


     Although there are a few plot bumps and WTF moments, the romance between Colleen and Grant plays out with snarky humor and a minimum of angst. Both lovers are intelligent and sympathetic characters, and the supporting characters are always fun to watch in this series. If you are looking for a handful of mind candy with absolutely no mental nutritionthe equivalent of a deep-fried Twinkiethis book is for you. 


                          NOVEL 15:  A Highland Wolf Christmas                          

     This is a continuation of Calla Stewart's story. We met Calla back in book 11 (A Highland Werewolf Wedding), when she dumped her fiancé, Baird McKinley, because of his violent behavior towards the MacNeill clan. As the story begins, Baird and some of his male relatives confront Calla outside her home as she is packing her car for a Christmas trip to Argent Castle, home of the MacNeill clan, where she is in charge of the Christmas party arrangements. Baird tries to force Calla to come back to him and resume their relationship, but she manages to get awaydriving straight into a snowstorm. As soon as the snowstorm is mentioned in the narrative, the reader knows right away that Calla is going to have some kind of snow-related misadventure before she reaches her destination (and yes, she does). Baird and his clan members continue to stalk Calla, hiding in the woods, spying on her in town, and even breaking into Argent Castle to try to kidnap her. 

     In the meantime, Guthrie MacNeill (last of the unmated triplets), is pining away with lust/love for Calla, just as he has been since childhood. Julia and the rest of the clan take matters into their own hands by pushing the couple together as frequently as possible. The story plays out dramatically, as Baird crosses the line from stalker to psychopath. He just won't give her up, and (as Guthrie suspects) there are some reasons for Baird's pursuit that go far beyond the wounded pride of a rejected lover. Spear gives us a lengthy build-up of suspense about the real reasons behind Baird's refusal to leave Calla alone, but when the truth is revealed, it is so mundane and so quickly taken care of that I was disappointed in the author for playing it up so much.

     In the midst of the budding romance and the unceasing stalking, Calla is planning a huge Christmas party for the MacNeill clan that involves lots of shopping, planning, and decoratingall occasions for family pranks and the usual humorous verbal exchanges and horseplay among the clan members.

     The book ends with a second winter-related disasteran icy blast of dangerous action followed by an anti-climactic mop-up scene. And then, it's all hearts and flowers (actually, mistletoe and wassail), as Calla and Guthrie get on with their mating and plan their wedding. The lovers each have a few interior monologues in which they worry about the fact that both are on the rebound from failed romantic relationships, but it's hard to take their doubts very seriously when they're sneaking off together every chance they get to indulge in various lustful gymnastics.

     Once again, Spear has created a fluffy romance surrounded by just enough dramatic danger to keep it interesting. By the end, Baird's single-minded pursuit of Calla is so over-the-top that he becomes a one-dimensional villain, when in earlier books his character had much more depthevil depth to be sure, but still… 

                         NOVEL 16:  SEAL Wolf Hunting                          

PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     Paul Cunningham is one of the only bachelors left on Hunter Greymere's SEAL wolf team, and he's less than thrilled to hear he's been volunteered for a local charity bachelor auction in his hometown. He has eluded many traps in his long career as a Navy SEAL, but there's no way out of this one. Then he discovers that the sexy she-wolf with the winning ticket is Lori Greypaw—the one woman he could never resist. And she has plans for Paul that go way beyond a simple date. For the first time in his bachelor life, this alpha wolf SEAL is going to have to prove his worth

     Lori Greypaw suspects that her grandmother is using the auction as an opportunity to fix her up. So she's not surprised when grandma "buys" Paul to help Lori renovate her mountain cabin for a week. Lori's had a crush on the sexy SEAL wolf for years, but he proves to be handy with more than a hammer when two fugitives come knocking and he'll do anything to protect the woman he's falling for. 

MY REVIEW:
     Paul and his partner, Allan Rappaport, are frequently away from their home in tiny Cottage Grove, Montana, for months at a time, traveling around the world on dangerous assignments. Back home, their pack comprises a handful of female wolves, the remnants of Paul's parents' much-larger pack that was decimated by a rabies-infected wild-wolf pack and a werewolf pack that was also infected by rabies. Paul has been ambivalent about becoming the official pack alpha even though all of the women desperately want him to step up and take command.

     The romance part of the plot centers on Paul and Lori. The two have been attracted to one another since childhood, but Paul chose an adventurous life with the SEALS, while Lori stayed in her hometown where she owns a martial arts dojo. She would love to settle down with Paul, but she's not sure that he will ever be satisfied with a quiet life in small-town Montana.


     The action part of the plot involves three rogue werewolves—two brothers and their friend—who have been hitting on Lori and her best friend (Anna—Allan's sister). When the women reject their advances, Lori uses her martial arts skills to get rid of them, but they are the type who can't take rejection, so they lurk ominously in the background throughout the story. Meanwhile, there has been a series of bank robberies in the area, and eventually those get woven into the plot towards the end. 


     On the whole, the love story is stronger than the action story, mostly because the lovers are well-developed, sympathetic characters with solid back stories and just enough angst to be interesting. The action plot, on the other hand, is disjointed, disappearing for long periods and then bubbling back up sporadically. In a paragraph or two near the end, Spear quickly ties together several plot points involving Allan's sister, resolving them in such a rush that she leaves out important details. That particular bit of the plot seems unplannedjust tossed in at the last minute with little thought. As is usual in Spear's novels, the hero, the heroine, and their friends are all good-hearted, honest, appealing people, while the villains are sleazy, arrogant jerks with absolutely no redeeming characteristics.


     If you enjoy Spear's shifter novels, you'll like this one because it follows her general formula. Click HERE to read an excerpt from SEAL Wolf Hunting.



                          NOVEL 17:  A Silver Wolf Christmas                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     It's a Silver Town Christmas, and the wolves are ready to howl. 
CJ Silver and his brothers have returned to Silver Town eager to reconnect with the pack. And with the she-wolf newcomers renovating the old Victorian Silver Town Hotel, it looks like the holidays are going to be very merry indeed.

     Laurel MacTire and her sisters are excited to be living in a wolf-run town, but they have another motive- to solve the fifty-year-old mystery of their aunt's disappearance. When CJ gets a whiff of trouble brewing, his protective instincts kick in-now Laurel has a hotel opening to prepare for, a mystery to solve, and a brawny wolf shifter underfoot. Perhaps she should have resisted the temptation to kiss him so wickedly in the snow.

     SILVER TOWN WOLVES is a sub-series within the HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES. Here are the titles:
 1. Destiny of the Wolf2. 
Wolf Fever3. Dreaming of the Wolf4. Silence of the Wolf5. A Silver Wolf Christmas 6. Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply

MY REVIEW:
    First, let's take a look at the Silver family tree, beginning with this book's hero, Connor James (CJ) Silver. CJ is one of four quadruplet brothers, the others being Eric (the eldest), Sarandon, and Brett (the youngest). They are cousins of the leaders of the Silver Town pack: Darien (the pack alpha), Jake, and Tom Silver. Connor and his brothers are the sons of Sheridan Silver, the former sheriff who killed Darien's first mate and was then killed, in turn, by Darien. The boys left the pack after that incident, but returned in Silence of the Wolf. Now they are truly a part of the Silver Town pack. Connor is a deputy sheriff; Eric is a park ranger; Sarandon is a trail guide; and Brett is a newspaper reporter and photographer. We'll probably be reading all of their mate stories in future books.

     The heroine is Laurel MacTire. (Her last name rhymes with "fear," not "fire," as Connor found out the hard way after mispronouncing it the first time they met.) Laurel is the eldest of a set of she-wolf triplets, the others being Ellie and Meghan. The women have come to Silver Town in search of their long-missing Aunt Clarinda O'Brien, but they are keeping that fact a secret because they believe that one of the Silver Town pack may have murdered her. Their cover story is that they are renovating a long-abandoned hotel. In fact, the story opens just days before the hotel's grand opening.


     Added to the mix are three mysterious male wolves who have come to town on the pretext of filming a ghost-buster TV show (because the MacTires' hotel is said to be haunted). Almost immediately, though, they reveal that they are nephews of Warren Wernicke, the man who used to own the hotel. Warren suddenly disappeared decades ago, about the same time that Laurel's aunt also disappeared from the very same hotel. The ghost-buster wolves claim that the hotel is rightfully theirs, and that Clarinda O'Brien had something to do with their uncle's disappearance. What's the real story? Good luck with trying to figure it all out.


     Those are the bare bones of the plot: missing relatives, possible murders, rude out-of-towners, andof coursethe budding romance between CJ and Laurel. The romance plays out in the usual manner, with initial resistance from Laurel, a never-give-up attitude from CJ, a few misunderstandings, and, eventually, some hot bedroom scenes and their inevitable HEA.


     The plot is knitted together very loosely, which means that it is full of holes, both big and smalla continuing problem in this series. The plot itself gets quite convoluted towards the end, and the situation is made even worse when characters act in improbable ways and when events don't quite track. For example, in the first few scenes, Laurel's sisters aren't happy about her friendly relationship with CJ, but all of a sudden they do a complete turn-around and encourage their mating. Then, there is the light that keeps turning itself on and off in the attic bedroom, an element that is heavily emphasized throughout the book but which fizzles out into a meaningless waste of time at the very end. And just as in Silence of the Wolf, the mysterious out-of-towners, who make a horrible first impression, turn out not to be so bad after all. Not to mention the final resolution of the missing persons plot line, which is so convoluted that Spear has to stop the action near the end of the book and have a few characters explain the whole thing so that we can finally figure out what's going on. (Spear used this same well-worn trope in Silence of the Wolf.)


     If you are a fan of the series, you may enjoy this frothy, familiar romance with its over-complicated action plot, but if you are looking for a fresh and inventive approach to paranormal romance, you won't find it here. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from A Silver Wolf Christmas on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.


                          NOVEL 18:  SEAL Wolf in Too Deep                          

PUBLISHER'S BLURB:
     His love is dangerous
: As a Navy SEAL and police diver, alpha wolf shifter Allan Rappaport knows how to handle tough situations, but the arrival of a human diving partnerespecially one as attractive as Debbie Renaudis a whole new challenge. Getting involved is dangerous, but Debbie's offers are hard to resist. As the heat between them rises and a murder plot thickens, Allan is on the brink of exposing his biggest secret. 

     But she's diving in headfirst: 
For Debbie, working with another top-notch diver like Allan is too good to be true, and their mutual attraction is hotter than she could have dreamed. Debbie suspects he's hiding something, though, and she's set on figuring it out-one off-duty rendezvous at a time. But when Debbie gets between a werewolf hunter and his intended victim, suddenly she is plunged straight into the heart of Allan's worlda world she never knew existed.

     MONTANA WOLVES is a sub-series within the HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES. Here are the titles:
 1. SEAL Wolf Hunting2. 
SEAL Wolf in Too Deep

MY REVIEW:
    In her second Montana-based wolf novel, Spear gives us the love story of two police divers, a werewolf male and a human female working in small-town Bigfork, Montana. When Paul Cunningham, Allan's best friend and partner, is badly injured in a diving accident, he is assigned a new partner, Debbie Renaud, an extremely attractive woman. Allan and his fellow werewolves know that it will be difficult for him to work with a human because he must keep her in the dark as to the existence of Paul and Lori's growing werewolf pack. Not to mention that Allan has a strong sexual attraction to Debbie to which he must not succumb. (As if there were any chance of that happening! Don't worry, he succumbs again and again and again.)

    While they are working on the murder case involving a man (a werewolf in human form) found dead in a stolen car submerged in a lake, another water-related crime occurs. They find a car partially submerged in a different lake with a woman (another werewolf in human form) trying desperately to rescue her baby from the back-seat baby carrier. Naturally, Debbie believes that all of the victims in both cases are human, and Allan has to maintain that pretense while making sure that the woman and her child are picked up by an ambulance that will take them to the werewolf-controlled clinic, not to the humans' hospital. The woman claims that a red Camaro ran her off the road into the lake and she pins the blame on a former boyfriend with a history of stalking her. 


     The two crimes are at the heart of the plot, which begins in a straightforward manner but then stumbles into a convoluted mishmash that combines long, hypothetical "if-this-then-that" discussions between Allan and Debbie and eventually a series of confusing twists and turns that bog the story down in a swamp of murky confusion. Adding to the plot tangle is the presence of Rowdy Sanderson, a human homicide detective who has the hots for Debbie and who is a believer in the supernatural—especially werewolves. He tells Debbie that he is sure that Allan and his family are werewolves, then pretends that he is kidding, then gets serious about it. (I'm fairly certain that Rowdy will turn up in a future MONTANA WOLVES novel and eventually become one of them.) Rowdy and Debbie have a series of the same type of speculative "if-then" conversations that she has with Allan, with the added distraction of pretending that the villains are werewolves or werewolf hunters. As I said, it's a bit of a mess.


     As has been the case in other novels in this series, Spear loses control of the time sequence several times, causing me to flip back and forth trying to figure out just how much time had passed between events only to find contradictory information. For example, on one page a specific event is supposed to have taken place three days ago, but a few pages later, the same event is said to have taken place ten days ago. In another example, characters refer to when an upcoming full-moon period will occur. First, they say that it will happen in a few days, then (several days later) in three days, and then—after those three days pass—in three more days.


     The love story moves along relatively slowly (no insta-love here, thank goodness) until some major events late in the story move the lovers' situation along to an inevitable resolution (one that I won't explain here). This book could be read as a stand-alone even though the characters sometimes make references to other wolf packs and Devlyn Greystoke's cousin, Vaughn, actually turns up in Bigfork. By the way, Vaughn's actions are not remotely believable. Without checking in first with the Bigfork pack leaders, Vaughn sneaks around their lands and follows Debbie and several pack members around town in his cara major misstep that the cousin of a pack leader would never take. 


     Spear does answer one important DNA-related question that has always bothered me. How can these werewolves have been accepted into the Navy SEALS with werewolf DNA? As it turns out, their DNA changes with their form: human form=human DNA and wolf form=wolf DNA. Another mythology element is mentioned in passing but not explored: The werewolves have recently begun to age at a rate nearly the same as humans, but no one knows why.


     If you enjoy this series, you'll like this book because it follows the general pattern of the previous books (except for the convoluted plot construction). The lead characters are well developed, although they have the usual, well-worn traits: fearless, good-looking, courageous people fighting against the evil in their world. Click HERE to read an excerpt from SEAL Wolf in Too Deep on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art. The paperback version of this novel contains the first two chapters of the next book, Alpha Wolf Need Not Apply (due 5/2016).

2 comments:

  1. The author's web site is http://www.terryspear.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love these reviews! You really put my thoughts into words. Lol!

    ReplyDelete