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Thursday, November 24, 2011


Author:  Jessica Sims (aka Jill Myles, aka Jessica Clare)  
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality4; Humor3 
Publisher and Titles: Pocket Books 
          Beauty Dates the Beast (10/2011)
          Desperately Seeking Shapeshifter (11/2012)
          Must Love Fangs (8/2013)
          Wanted: Wild Thing (8/2014) (FINAL)

         "Vixen" in Wild & Steamy (8/2011)
         "Out with a Fang" in The Undead in My Bed (9/2012)
         "Speed Mating" in Fire & Frost (5/2013)
         "Single Wolf Female" (8/2013)
         "Bear Naked" (2/2014)
         "Claws and Effect" (6/2014)
          "Tiger by the Tail" (1/2016) 
          Novellas & Stories: A Print Compilation of Wild & Steamy and Fire & Frost (contains "Vixen" and "Speed Dating") (5/2013) 

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 9/17/14 to include a review of Wanted: Wild Thing, the fourth and FINAL novel in the series. The post begins with an overview of the world-building followed by my reviews of all four novels arranged in reading order.

NOTE: Sims has also published a paranormal romance novel entitled Between a Vamp and a Hard Place (Pocket, 1/2016). Some sources (including the author) are including this book in the MIDNIGHT LIAISONS SERIES, but it is actually a separate novel that has no connection to Midnight Liaisons, the paranormal dating service that gives this series its title. I am currently working on my review of this novel and will post a link to it here.

    In this world, supernaturals are allowed to consort romantically only with other supernaturals. They are not allowed to date humans (aka naturals) unless the human has an official visa stating that she is legally approved to date within the Paranormal Alliance, which is the official governing body for most species of shape shifters (except for the vampires and the werewolves, who refuse to join). One of the biggest problems that the shifters in this world have in common is that they have very few females, so naturally enough, most of them require all were-females to live and procreate within the packwhether they want to or not. 

     Bathsheba (Bath) Ward, a young human woman, is the general manager of Midnight Liaisons, a dating agency for supernaturals (primarily shifters, but also a few fey and vampires). This agency enables male supernaturals to find and socialize with eligible females. One would think that since were-females are so rare, the males would know the whereabouts of every single one of them. For example, a local wolf pack has only two females. Why would those females have to set up their dates through a dating service? This is just one of the weaknesses in the premise for the series.

     If the basic premise of the series wasn't so shaky and if the plot were not so full of improbabilities, this could have been a good series. Each heroine tells her story in the first person, and Sims handles that tricky voice fairly well. Although the characters are one-dimensional and stereotypical, they are likable enough. The women are feisty but fragile, and the men are alpha all the way. If you are crazy about shifter fiction, you might enjoy this one, but only if you overlook the total lack of logic in the plots.

                     NOVEL 1:  Beauty Dates the Beast                     
WARNING: Before I even begin this review I need to warn you that my copy of Beauty Dates the Beast has two sets of missing pages (pp. 33-34 and pp. 47-48), so check your copy before reading it to be sure that yours is complete.
     In the series opener, Bath and Sara have been on the run for the past six years, hiding from her abusive boyfriend's wolf pack, which wants to force Sara to join so that she can provide the pack with lots of wolf pups. Sara was turned against her will, and when her boyfriend tried to drag her off to the pack, Bath shot and killed him. Now the two are hiding in plain sight at Midnight Liaisons, hoping (wrongly) that their ties to the agency will allow them to keep tabs on the local werewolves so that Sara can remain free. 

     As the story opens, Bath and Sara are alone in the office when a female were-cat cancels a date with a prominent were-cougar, Beauregard (Beau) Russell, who happens to be the leader of the Russell clan and the head of the Alliance. Bath and Sara know that their nasty boss, Giselle, will fire them if they don't handle the problem without upsetting Beau. As Bath and Beau discuss the situation on the phone, Beau has a perfect solution: Bath will take the place of the female were-cat and go to dinner with him. Since Beau is tall, blond, and sexy, Bath decides that one date will be O.K. Well, we all know what happens next: the two fall for one another, and the romance heats up immediately—especially when Beau reveals the real reason he needs a "date" for the following weekend. As it turns out, that's when the female weres go into heat, which sexually affects every male in the area, forcing each one to hook up with a female to "scratch his itch." This is another glitch in the plot: How can every were-male find a female for the weekend when there are so few were-females available? 

     Bath is a 25-year-old virgin who isn't at all sure that this should be her very first sexual adventure, but soon enough, all thoughts of sex go (temporarily) out the window when a mysterious supernatural attacker turns up at Bath and Sara's house. Beau takes the sisters under his protection, keeping Bath with him in his remote cabin (for obvious purposes) and Sara with his second in command (Ramsey, a were-bear) back at the Russell clan headquarters. As the plot plays out, the action increases, the sensuality simmers and boils over, the villains emerge, and the plot glitches mount up. 

     The high violence rating is due solely to the climactic scene that resolves the plot and which includes large amounts of sadistic aggression, bloodthirsty assault, and graphic brutality.

     Although the characters in this book are one-dimensional and sometimes act nonsensically, the weakest aspect of this book by far is the plot. Here are some unbelievable examples:

       >  1. The major premise of the book is that no one at Midnight Liaisons—a shifter dating service—realizes that Sara is a werewolf. What? They're all shifters with super-sharp noses. How could they not know what she is? 

       >  2. Early on in the story, Bath, Sara, and Beau stay overnight in a hotel because a stalker has invaded her house. Bath is afraid that if she shares a bed with Sara, Beau will smell Sara's werewolf scent on her, so she decides that the best way to solve that problem is to sleep with Beau. First, how can it be that Beau—a powerful shifter himself—hasn't already smelled Sara's scent since they have been together for several hours. Second, the virginal Bath is going to share Beau's bed having known him for a single day? That just doesn't fit at all with her cautious life style. 

       >  3. Bath makes one nonsensical choice after another (including that old classic, sneaking out to confront the villains on her own), giving her more TSTL moments than any character I've run across in recent years. Unfortunately, I can't give you any more examples because they would be spoilers, but trust me, she's not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

     If the story didn't make such a big deal about the scent issue, I could let this go, but scent is all important to the plot, so I must take issue. Here are some conflicting quotations from Bath about Sara and her scent that illustrate the ongoing inconsistencies and irrationalities, all of which undermine the plot. The key points are highlighted in red.

Here, Bath carefully de-scents her clothing before going out with Beau: "I gave my clothes a squirt of Febreze and tumbled them in the dryer with a floral-scented dryer sheet just in case Sara's distinctive werewolf scent lingered on me. I couldn't smell it because I was human, but just about every shifter had a nose ten times keener than mine, and we'd had several close calls." (p. 24) Right! She obviously knows that all shifters have a keen sense of smell, but she obviously doesn't allow that knowledge to inform her choice of work places. Why on earth would she choose to work at a place frequented by shifters? Also, does she really believe that a little Febreze can hide scent from a werewolf? Apparently, she's not a reader of paranormal werewolf fiction, because, as we all know, that would never work.

Here, Bath muses about Sara's history: "When I was nineteen, my younger sister stated dating a werewolf. He bit her and turned her, and I had to drop out of college to take care of her as she adjusted to growing fur and a tail. And since the werewolf pack wants her back, we keep a low profile in case we have to leave town again." (p. 36) To me, "low profile" doesn't equate to working for a dating agency for shifters. Just sayin'.

These are Bath's thoughts about Sara's scent just a few moments after Beau has carried Sara out of the house and placed her in his car: "If Beau went inside and dug through her things he'd find wolf scent all over her clothing—or worse, he'd find the clothes that she had last used when she changed." (p. 63) Hey Bath! Remember, Beau just carried Sara to the car. Don't you think that he smelled her then?

Here is Bath's justification for working at Midnight Liaisons:
     " we were safe, because we knew where the packs were and what they were up to...We had tabs on every single shifter in the area who used the service, which made Sara safer, knowing who and where to avoid." (p. 81) "Where to avoid" would seem to include a dating agency for shifters. There is a lot of shifter traffic in and out of the office. What does Sara do when a shifter enters the agency? Even if she runs into the back room (which would be rather obvious to anyone in the office), her scent wouldn't just evaporate. Once again, a massive lack of logic prevails.

                     NOVEL 2:  Desperately Seeking Shapeshifter                     
    The story picks up immediately following the ending of book 1, and once again, the heroine tells her story in the first person. This time that heroine is Sara Ward, the bitten werewolf who is the younger sister of Bathsheba. The plot of book 1 revolved around the abusive werewolf who bit and changed Sara, and in this book, she deals with the aftermath of that abuse. As the story begins, the local werewolf pack still has Beau's cousin, Savannah, in their clutches, and they won't release her unless Beau turns Sara over to them as a mate for their single men. Sara comes up with the idea of tricking the werewolves into releasing Savannah and then pretending that she is already mated to one of Beau's brothers. Beau has a better idea: He wants her pretend mate to be Ramsey Bjorn, the scowling, gigantic were-bear who is Beau's good friend and chief enforcer. We saw the beginnings of their mutual attraction in the previous book.

     Their trick doesn't work very well, because the wolves are determined to have Sara for their own, so they send Connor, the pack leader's nephew, to monitor Sara and try to woo her back to the pack. Connor, though, has already found his mate in Savannah, although there are a multitude of barriers that may prevent him from ever making their mating a reality. That relationship will no doubt be the focus of another book.

     The plot follows Sara and Ramsey down the bumpy road to their HEA with the wolves dogging her every step of the way. The bad-guy wolves are portrayed as lewd, thuggish rednecks who explain to Sara that they share everything—including mates.

     Once again, one of the major plot points is built on improbable ground. As Sara begins to fall for Ramsey, she looks him up on the Midnight Liaisons (ML) database and discovers that he has never had a date because his profile says that he is already mated to a were-bear named Nikolina. When Sara asks Ramsey about this, he explains that he was exiled from his bear clan when he was just fifteen (more than a decade ago) and was betrothed to Nikolina when they were babies—in other words, it was to have been an arranged marriage. He claims that they were never in love, that she has no role in his present life, and that he has not seen or heard from her since he left his clan all those years ago. 

     My question is this: If Ramsey's story is true (and it seems to be), then how did Nikolina's profile and current photograph get into the ML database with a direct link to Ramsey's profile? In order to be placed on the closed-network database, a client must come in to ML for an interview and complete a detailed questionnaire. If Ramsay hasn't seen Nikolina since they were teens, where did the photograph and the profile information come from, and who posted the profile and linked it to Ramsey? Sara never asks these questions, nor does anyone else. Someone at ML had to be involved in setting up the two profiles. Sara's sister and all of the ML employees have access to the database, so when they see that Sara is falling for Ramsey, why doesn't anyone warn her that he already has a mate? Nikolina's presence in the database is one of the major reasons that Sara holds back for so long in her relationship with Ramsey—it's a big thing to her that he has a mate—so I can't ignore the implausibility of this plot device, and I don't believe for a minute that she wouldn't ask who set up Nikolina's profile. Why didn't the editor and the focus readers catch this huge glitch and deal with it early in the editing process.

     Sara is a slightly smarter heroine than her sister (except for the whole profile deal), so no serious TSTL moments occur in this book. She does have a tendency to create her own mental and emotional conflicts out of thin air, but after a lot of angst-filled interior monologues, she eventually gets her life under control. One interesting twist is that the virgin in this story is not the heroine—and that's all I'm going to say on the subject, except that it leads to some inventive bedroom scenes. Outside the Nikolina glitch, this book is an enjoyable read, with better developed characters and a plot that moves along at a fast pace. 

     Book 3 will tell the romantic story of Joshua Russell, Beau's handsome, womanizing, were-cougar brother, and Marie Bellavance, a human employee of ML who is suffering from a fatal medical condition and believes that the only way to save herself is to become a vampire. 

                     NOVEL 3:  Must Love Fangs                     
     Marie Bellavance is one of the few humans on the staff at Midnight Liaisons (ML), a paranormal dating service that is the center of action for this series. Marie has spent her life behind a self-constructed mental wall that she has built to keep people from getting too close to her. As part of her genetic heritage, Marie is just now showing symptoms of the same incurable disease (fatal familial insomnia) that killed her mother, a condition that keeps her awake 24/7. Since she can never sleep, her body begins to run down, and her mental faculties begin to fray. All she can look forward to is a terrible, mindless death, but she is determined to solve her problem by becoming either a vampire or a shifter, both of whom carry no diseases. Marie's position with ML gives her access to a huge database of possible candidates who might "turn" her. Because of a recent case in which a shifter turned his girlfriend without her permission, the Paranormal Alliance is cracking down on shifter "turnings," so Marie decides to go for a vampire.

     Meanwhile, were-cougar Joshua Russell (brother of Beau, the hero of book 1) has started flirting with Marie. Josh is a paranormal playboy with a long list of one-date girlfriends in his ML profile, so Marie doesn't take him seriously—at first. Eventually, she asks for his help in attracting a vampire, and their relationship begins to grow closer, and hotter.

     The plot follows the budding romance as Josh gives Marie a makeover and watches over her on her vampire dates. It is obvious to the reader—and soon to Marie—that Josh has completely fallen for her, but she can't let him risk being banished if he turns her. Eventually, Marie gets herself into a dangerous situation with her chosen vampire, and Josh must come to the rescue.

     In general, this is the strongest novel of the series so far, with appealing lovers and an interesting plot. Once again, though, there are some holes in the plot—errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. For example, when Marie is making a list of possible vampire dates, she discusses Valjean (hero of one of the novellas) with her colleague, Ryder: "Hey, Ryder,"…Who was the vampire with the sexy, frothy hair? Your client." "Valjean," she replied." (p. 23) Later, she tells Josh that she does not know Ruby, Valjean's new mate (p. 64). In a later conversation, she completely contradicts her earlier statements when she explains that Valjean had been her client and that "I was familiar with [Ruby], since her sister, Jayde, was one of our more notorious clients." (p. 136) I realize that these are small details, but why include them at all if they contradict each other? This type of mistake has been a problem all through this series, signaling a need for better editing. 

     Then there are the mistakes in logic: For example, even though Marie has been working at ML for some time now, she knows next to nothing about supernaturals. She doesn't know that vampire saliva is an aphrodisiac. She doesn't know anything about shifter mating traditions. She doesn't know which restaurants in the ML neighborhood are vampire hangouts. She doesn't know that if she is bitten and turned by a vampire that she will be that vamp's blood partner forever. (She naively believes that after she gets a vamp to turn her, she can go back to her shifter lover.) How can this seemingly intelligent woman have so many blank spaces in her knowledge about paranormals, particularly given that her job brings her in contact with them every single day?

     Another improbable moment occurs near the end when Marie calls her father for help after the usual showdown scene that climaxes the story. Her father knows nothing about the supernatural world, but instead of calling on her shifter friends for assistance, she drags her father into a dangerous and very messy situation, putting his life at risk and dumping the whole notion of supernatural life on him in a high-pressure situation. None of Marie's actions make sense here.

     To sum it up: I'd like this series a lot more if the illogical and improbable elements were edited out. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Must Love Fangs.

                     NOVEL 4:  Wanted: Wild Thing                     
     Ryder Sinclair has been posing as a human employee at Midnight Liaisons (ML) where she works the lonely night shift. In reality, Ryder is a shape shifter who morphs into a scaly, winged dragon-like creature when she is sexually aroused. "The moment a man's hand caressed me with sexual intention? Out came the scaly fanged beast." (p. 6) Ryder despises the monster under her skin and has spent her life trying to keep it hidden. When she was fourteen, a Fae fortune teller told her that if she didn't find her true love and lose her virginity to him before her 25th birthday she would revert permanently to her lizard-like form, so Ryder spends her time flirting with as many guys as possible, desperately searching for The One. According to the fortune teller, Ryder will recognize her soul mate immediately because his touch will not turn her into a monster.

     Early in the book, Ryder's hopes for finding a normal life are dashed when a Fae prince named Finian turns up at ML and informs her that she is a changeling—the offspring of two Fae creatures: "Your father was put out to stud, and we brought in your mother—a sweet little filly if ever there was one—and voila, magic happened. You were created." (p. 18) Changelings are very rare and valuable to the Fae, so Finian placed Ryder in the human world for protection until she "ripened" on her 25th birthday. At that time he plans to breed her to another changeling, just like a dog or a horse. As if this news isn't horrifying enough, Finian has hired a mercenary to guard Ryder's virginity during these crucial final weeks because she will be throwing off pheromones that will attract other Fae who might steal her from him.

     The mercenary guard is Hugh, a hulking giant of a man who rarely speaks and who acts as if he has never been exposed to modern civilization. When Ryder asks what kind of shifter he is, he tells her that he is a primordial long-tooth (which translates into a saber-toothed tiger). Soon, Ryder learns that Hugh has entered into a binding contract with Finian in which Finian has promised to provide brides for all of Hugh's "brothers," who live in a primitive Fae realm and are forced to work for the Fae. At first, Hugh is adamant that he will never betray his brothers by rescuing Ryder from her horrible Fae fate, but when he falls for her he begins to change his mind.

     The story follows Ryder and Hugh as she introduces him to all of the modern conveniences of the 21st century: cars, refrigerators, hair dryers, hot showers, credit cards, and clothing. She also introduces him to television—specifically to porn, which comes in handy late in the story when they finally get together. Since both are virgins, that's how they learn the bedroom basics. 

     The plot contains no battles, bloodshed, or danger, except for Hugh's attacks on modern appliances that make unexpected sounds, like a coffee maker and a hair dryer. At one point, another Fae tries to kidnap Ryder, but Hugh nips that in the bud within moments. The conflict is primarily emotional, rather than physical. Ryder hates the ugliness of her scaly, changeling appearance and believes that she will never find anyone to love her. Hugh is desperate to find a mate, and he finds Ryder's beast to be quite attractive. He just has to convince her that she is beautiful in both her human and changeling shapes.

     Ryder has established a flirty, sexy-little-girl persona that includes lots of skimpy pink and yellow outfits and Hello Kitty accessories. Her home is decorated like a little girl's bedroom, with pink and yellow furnishings and lots of stuffed animals and kitschy knickknacks. Ryder uses her bright clothing and flirtatious personality to keep herself from thinking about her bestial side. "You know the saying 'Fake it until you make it'? I lived that every day of my life….I giggled and flirted and chattered nonstop. I was in Ryder On mode. When Ryder was On, I was an endlessly effervescent personality. When I was Ryder Off?…No one got to see Ryder Off but me. It was best for everyone involved." (p. 2) 

    Although this remains a feather-light series, it has improved greatly since the first novel. This fourth novel is the strongest so far, with very few of the plot holes and illogical events that weakened the previous books. Both Ryder and Hugh are sympathetic characters with life problems that are inventive and fresh in a genre that generally relies on stale tropes. I love the idea of the primordials—Ice Age shifters who have led lonely, primitive lives under total Fae control. Usually when we see these types of characters they have time-traveled from another realm, and we have no real background on their previous lives. In this book, though, the primordial home realm is as important as the present-day setting. When Ryder steps through the portal into the primordials' realm, we get a much deeper appreciation for Hugh's character and a heartbreaking understanding of his motivations. It's really too bad that the series is ending, because with this book, the author has finally produced a solid, entertaining story with sympathetic characters involved in an interesting conflict. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Wanted: Wild Thing.

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