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Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Author:  Ashlyn Chase 
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) with a touch of Chick Lit (CH) 
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality4; Humor3 
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
          Flirting Under a Full Moon (4/2013)
          How to Date a Dragon (9/2013)
          Kissing with Fangs (3/2014) (FINAL) 

This ongoing series-review post was revised and updated on 4/23/14 to include a review of Kissing with Fangs, the third (and final) novel in the series. The post begins with an overview of the world-building followed by reviews of the three novels. 

     This series takes place in the same world as Chase's STRANGE NEIGHBORS SERIESIn this mythology, humans are unaware of the existence of supernaturals, which in this series includes mostly vampires and werewolves, but also makes room for a few wizards and dragons. Set in an alternate Boston, the stories follow the romantic adventures of various couples, each made up of one harebrained human woman and one irresponsible supernatural man. 

     Although the series is meant to be humorous paranormal romance, the humor generally falls flat and the romances are completely predictable and angst-free. Click HERE to read my reviews of the novels in the STRANGE NEIGHBORS SERIES

                       NOVEL 1:  Flirting Under a Full Moon                       

     In the series opener, Nick Wolfensen is a Boston policeman and the twin brother of Konrad, the hero of one of the STRANGE NEIGHBORS books. Nick has just quit his job to become a private investigator. His first PI case is to find and rescue a young girl who happens to be a fire mage. The victim is the cousin of Brandee Hanson, a waitress at the Boston Uncommon, a bar catering to the supernatural community (even thoughoddlyall of its staff are humans who know nothing about the supernatural world). When Brandee finds out about her cousin's misfortune, she insists on "helping" Nick with the case (although she has absolutely no investigative experience), and contributes a number of TSTL moments that result in various bad things happening to the couple. Despite Brandee's air-headed approach to life, Nick falls for her (and vice versa). The romance takes off quickly—too quickly—and they fall into true love almost immediately.

     If Chase had spent some time developing this plot line and adding some interesting twists and turns, this might have been a better book, but instead, she allows Nick's case to be partially resolved without much drama and then starts another story line—and then another (e.g., irrelevant scenes involving such things as a jealous girlfriend of one of the vampires attacking Brandee, previously undetected Brownies showing up in the middle of the night to clean up the bar, Brandee's ex-boyfriend making a half-hearted attempt to get her back, and 
a string of bank robberies by an enslaved supernatural). The low point in the book comes in a seriously gross scene that graphically depicts the consequences of Brandee's lactose intolerance

     Then there's a new addition to the mythology: the unpleasantly rude, crude, and profane Mother Nature (aka "Gaia," which is the acronym for the Gods and Immortals Association, of which she is the head goddess). Chase handles plots in the STRANGE NEIGHBORS series in this same manner: too many story lines and too many distracting, non-essential scenes—all lacking complexity and depth. By the time the end finally arrives (and believe me, I was really looking forward to it), the characters have been involved in several more situations (mostly meant to be humorous, but failing) before the original case comes to its anti-climactic ending. One final problem: Each story line is full of holes (which is also a problem in STRANGE NEIGHBORS). Click HERE to read an excerpt from Flirting Under a Full Moon.

     To sum it up: The lead characters are flat and lifeless; the dialogue is clumsy and stiff; and the plot lines are paper-thin and unexciting. If you're looking for really funny chick lit paranormal romance, you might want to try Michelle Bardsley's BROKEN HEART series, Nina Bangs' CASTLE OF DARK DREAMS series, Vivi Andrews' KARMIC CONSULTANT series, Teri Garey's DEVIL'S BARGAIN series, Molly Harper's NAKED WEREWOLF series (and others), Sandra Hill's DEADLY ANGELS series, Katie MacAlister's DRAGON series, and Vicki Lewis Thompson's WILD ABOUT YOU series. Click on any of the series titles above to go to my reviews.

                       NOVEL 2:  How to Date a Dragon                       

     Twenty-seven-year-old Bliss Russo is one of three finalists in a television reality show contest. It's like Project Runway, but instead of designing clothing, the contestants design greeting cards. Bliss calls her design line Hall-Snark, and imagines that her cards are sarcastically and ironically humorous. Unfortunately, her so-called snarky rhymes tend more towards adolescent silliness. Early in the story, Bliss's apartment building burns down and she is rescued by a tall, blond (not at all like the cover image) fireman named Drake Cameron. Bliss is a human, and Drake is a dragon shifterone of the last dragons in existence.

     Although Bliss and Drake share a moment of connection during the fire, Drake can't find her afterwards to find out who she is and to ask her out. This seems improbable since he could just ask the owner of the building where Bliss is now living (she would have to have her mail forwarded, after all). Anyhow…Drake is lonely, so he signs up with an on-line dating service and meets a female dragon named Zina who turns out to be the villain of the story. Zina is determined to mate with Drake because female dragons can mate only during a very brief period every five years, and this is her time. Drake, however, is not interested in Zina, who comes across as a truly unpleasant, arrogant, aggressive person/dragon. 

     After the fire, Bliss moves to an apartment over the same bar/restaurant we saw in the first book: Boston Uncommon. This place is owned by a vampire and is frequented by supernaturals, but employs humans as waitresses and bartenders. There, Bliss and Drake eventually run into each other and fall immediately and completely in loveanother one of those insta-matic romances that regularly turn up in paranormal romances. Zina, of course, does everything she can to put a stop to their romance because she wants Drake for herself. Throughout the story, Bliss continues to work on her Hall-Snark greeting card entries for the TV finale. 

     SIDE NOTE: Bliss's technology skills are woefully behind the times because she initially keeps all of her greeting card files on her laptop, which is destroyed in the fireno back-ups, even though these are the final designs that she must submit to the TV show. Then, after she recreates the designs on a different computer, she decides that the best thing to do is save them to CD disks and store them in a safety deposit box in a bank (which burns down later in the story). Has this woman never heard of a flash drive?

     Mother Nature (aka Gaia) shows up againjust as she did in book 1in a series of disconnected scenes that interrupt the flow of the already thin plot. Gaia's primary purpose is to send Drake some help with Zina and to serve as a deus ex machina near the end to offer a solution to the problem of Bliss's mortality.

     Once again, the plot is simplistic and full of holes; the characters have little depth; and the humor is strained. Here's an example of a plot hole: At one point, Zima kidnaps Bliss in full view of two police officers. You would think that would set off a citywide search, but no, we never hear anything from the police again. It's as if that scene never happened. Another plot improbability occurs when Bliss—for the first time in her life—writes a "diary" entry in the notebook she uses to jot down greeting card ideas. That entry happens to contain incriminating information about Drake, and it sets up a situation in which another character accidentally reads the "diary" and discovers that Bliss thinks Drake is a dragon. Not only is the scene completely improbable, it is also silly and unnecessary to the story. And here's an example of the predictable humor: Since Bliss comes from an Italian family, we are treated to an overload of stereotypical Italian-mother humor centered around getting Bliss married off to a suitable man so that she can pop out some grandchildren. This series isn't getting any stronger, and I don't have much hope for future books, which would need more complex plots, fleshed-out characters, a more nuanced romance, fewer superfluous supporting characters, and a much less stereotypical villain. Click HERE to read an excerpt from How to Date a Dragon.

                       NOVEL 3:  Kissing with Fangs                       
     The third novel in this series has a ring of finality to it because it pretty much wraps up all of the romances and ties up most of the loose ends from the previous novels. This time around, two supporting characters from the first two novels ascend to starring roles: Anthony Cross, the vampire who owns Boston Uncommona paranormal bar/restaurant, and Claudia Fletcher, who manages the place. During the climax of the second novel, Boston Uncommon burned to the ground, torched by a jealous, sociopathic dragon. Now, Anthony is trying to decide how to rebuild, and Claudia is drinking herself into a permanent stupor. Even though Claudia has worked closely with Anthony for the past five years, he never once suspected that she had a severe drinking problem (hard to believe!), but when Anthony goes to her apartment to offer her a job when he gets the bar rebuilt, he finds her barely coherent and her apartment overflowing with empty liquor bottles. A few days later, Claudia confesses to him that she is an alcoholic and has now joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), so she can't work in a bar. That's not a problem for Anthony because he'll do anything to keep Claudia close to him. The two have crushed on each other from afar through all their years of working together, but neither one has made any kind of a romantic move. That's about to change!

     The couple decides to turn Boston Uncommon into a tea room. That way, Claudia won't be tempted by liquor, and Anthony's "Aunt" Sadie (who is really his niece) can read tea leaves. There's just one problem: As Anthony and Claudia get closer and closer to admitting their mutual love, they are constantly on the alert for Anthony's jealous and violent ex-girlfriend, Ruxandra, who has vowed that Anthony will to come back to her and that no other woman will live to stand in her way.

     Meanwhile, some of the other paranormals have learned that a group of "researchers" have captured some shape shifters and vampires and are experimenting on them in a secret laboratory. Their search for the laboratory is the crux of the action part of the plot. 

     The romance takes up most of the plot time as Claudia battles her alcohol demons, attends multiple AA sessions, gets kidnapped by Ruxandra, and deals with her new and sexy relationship with Anthony. At the same time, Anthony is trying to assist in the search for the laboratory, keep Ruxandra away from Claudia, and figure out how to tell Claudia that he is a vampire. Just as in the first two novels, Mother Nature meddles in the lives of this small group of paranormals, particularly focusing on Anthony and Claudia.

     As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this feels like the final book in the series. By the end of the story, all of the paranormal characters from the STRANGE NEIGHBORS series have been drawn into the plot, the Ruxandra situation has been settled once and for all, and all of the possible couples appear to have paired off. 

     This book suffers from all of the same problems seen in the first two novels: a choppy story line, improbable events, fatuous dialogue, flat characters, and unnecessary story lines (like the early scene in which Claudia's parents show up unexpectedly, leave town the next day, and are never seen again in the story). The novel presents an extremely unrealistic picture of alcohol detox and rehabilitation. Actually, Claudia never even goes through detox. She is supposed to be heavily addicted to alcohol, but she never shows a single withdrawal symptom, and she is able to get herself clean and sober just by reading the AA manual and going to a few meetings—highly improbable. Equally improbable is the fact that no one—not Anthony and not her best friends—ever knew that she was a heavy drinker. That just doesn't happen in real life. When an author selects a life-tragedy for a character, he or she should do enough research to present it with authenticity and realistic detail. Because this is a relatively light romance and there is nothing light about alcoholism, my feeling is that alcoholism was absolutely the wrong choice for Claudia's "big life problem." 
Click HERE to read an excerpt from Kissing with Fangs. (Scroll down and click on the "See More" icon in the "Excerpt" section.)

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