Plot Type: Light Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—3; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Ballantine
"Collected" (e-novella prequel, 12/2013)
"Bitter Disenchantment" (e-novella, 12/2013)
The series heroine is Natalya Stravinsky, a twenty-something werewolf who was kicked out of her pack because she suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and mysophobia (aka germophobia) and because she rejected an arranged marriage with a top-level pack family. Five years ago, Nat had her OCD pretty much under control, but then her boyfriend, Thorn Grantham, deserted her and she fell prey to her weakness—buying Christmas ornaments, scrupulously cleaning them up, and storing them in pristine white boxes that are neatly stacked everywhere in her antiseptically clean house. Nat's OCD is a huge part of the plot, to the point that you just want to tell her to get a better therapist and work a lot harder at getting over it.
This little novella illustrates all that is wrong with this series. First, the plot is nonsensical—all this drama so that Nat can possess a papier mache figure and a nutcracker. Even Nat herself muses, "Had I fallen so far that I needed these things, these trinkets? That I was willing to risk myself and my friends to add to my collection?" Yes indeed, she has, and not for the first—or last—time. Then, there's the "romance." In a come-from-nowhere scene near the end, Miles, who has known Nat and Alex since childhood, confesses his long-term attraction to her on the eve his leaving town forever. That scene doesn't even come close to ringing true. And don't forget the awkward interior monologues in which Nat constantly belittles herself for being germophobic and obsessive-compulsive but just keeps right on with it, to the detriment of her life and the lives of her friends.
Long story short, you don't need to read this novella to understand book 1 because Nat's various mental ailments are described in that book in great detail. The only saving grace is that at the moment, this novella is a free download.
NOVEL 2: Kept
In this book, the heroine's various neuroses are just as bad and just as annoying as they were in book 1. She is still collecting and hoarding Christmas ornaments (a symptom of her OCD) and she still carries multiple packs of sanitizing wipes with her at all times (a symptom of her germophobia). She also continues in her estrangement from her lost love, Thorn Grantham, son and heir of the local pack leader. Nat is still attending her therapy group, where she continues her friendship with Nick, a white wizard who would like to be more than a friend.
As the story opens, Nat's father disappears, and she learns that he has gone off to Atlantic City to pay a life-or-death moon debt to Roscoe, a former werewolf associate who is a criminal mob boss. Nat goes off on her own to find and rescue her father, but is immediately joined by her brother, Alex, and Thorn. Alex is soon called home when his wife gives birth to their first child, leaving Nat and Thorn on their own. After meeting with Roscoe, the couple fulfills the first task that Dad was supposed to do, but when they return to Roscoe, he insists that Nat must complete the rest of the assignment with no werewolf assistance—which means that Thorn has to walk away. The rest of the story follows Nat as she makes a traumatic road trip to Maine accompanied by Nick and two other members of her therapy group. By the end of the book, Dad's moon debt situation is taken care of and Nat's pack status is resolved, but her romantic future is filled with uncertainty.
In a secondary story line, Nat is just weeks away from the trials—a set of three tests of physical endurance that will determine whether she can rejoin the pack. She constantly professes that becoming a pack member is her major goal in life, but as the book begins, she hasn't done any physical training at all to get in shape. After she spends a single early-morning session attempting to run ten miles (and collapsing after jogging/walking/dragging only about half that many), we never see her train again. So when she performs quite well in the actual 10-mile run during the trials, we (the readers) are quite stunned.
The author has the germ of a good story, but her writing skills aren't up to the task of constructing either sympathetic, realistic characters or a cohesive, believable plot. There was a point late in the book that I became engaged in the action, but it was a long time coming and it didn't last very long. Unfortunately, this plot has many more weaknesses than strengths. For example, the scene with Roscoe, Nat, and her father doesn't make much sense. Why would Roscoe allow Nat to pay off just one part of the moon debt—and the lesser part at that? Why would her big, strong, honorable father let his emotionally damaged, physically weak daughter go off her own to pay off his debt? Once Thorn and Alex leave Nat alone, they don't seem to worry much about her—another unbelievable turn of events. Nat's history is filled with failure at almost everything she attempts, so why would they think she can do this alone? (As it turns out, she can't; once again, her friends bail her out.)
Characterization is also a problem. Nat is an extremely unlikeable heroine—always a whiny, fearful, shrinking violet who freezes up during almost every crisis and lets others fight her battles. When she does dredge up enough gumption to fight back, it's so rare and shocking as to be unbelievable. Thorn is also unlikable. He's a big, strong, thoughtless alpha who appears to have no idea how much he hurts Nat as he follows a pattern of coming on to Nat in one scene and then showing up with his fiancee in the next. He is furious that Nat is seeing Nick the wizard, but can't understand why Nat is bothered by the fact that he himself is engaged to be married. It's really impossible for me to understand what each one sees in the other.
There are continuity problems throughout the book. For example, in one scene (on p. 29), Nat's mother explains everything she knows about Dad going off to pay his moon debt. Then (on page 30), we have this statement: "An hour later, Alex and Aunt Vera managed to convince Mom to talk." But Mpm already did all her talking on the previous page, and she doesn't provide any more after that point. There are also a few dialogues in which questions and answers are not synchronized—a question is asked by one character, and another character appears to answer a different question.
And don't get me started on the road-trip scene in which Nat and her friends riff on the euphemisms used by romance novelists for female and male private parts. That scene is obviously just thrown in for its general silliness, and it totally breaks the suspense build-up.
I'm going to bring this review to a close by saying that I will not be reviewing any more books or novellas in this series. I will list the titles when they are published, but without any comments. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Kept.