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Friday, June 7, 2013

Shelly Laurenston's PRIDE SERIES

Author:  Shelly Laurenston
Series:  PRIDE   
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)    
Ratings:  Violence3-4; Sensuality4-5; Humor4 
Publisher and Titles:  Brava
          "Like a Wolf with a Bone" in Howl for It (8/2012)
          The Mane Event (9/2007)
          The Beast in Him (4/2008)
          The Mane Attraction (11/2008)
          The Mane Squeeze (11/2009)
          Beast Behaving Badly (5/2010)
          Big Bad Beast (5/2011)
          Bear Meets Girl (3/2012)
          Wolf with Benefits (4/2013)
          Bite Me (3/2014)  

    This post was revised and updated on 5/12/14 to include Bite Me, the ninth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the eighth novel.  

             NOVEL 9:  Bite Me             
     Most of the earlier novels in this series featured alpha heroes and feisty heroines who divided their time between snarky dialogue, graphic bedroom scenes, and lots of brawling (with friends, family, and enemies alike). This novel is much more quiet than any of the others. The hero, Vic Barinov, is an easy-going, New Age sort of a guya mild-mannered, sports-hating grizzly/tiger shifter who never seems to lose his cool, even when his soon-to-be soul mate breaks into his house, digs holes in its foundation, and eats up his honey supply. Vic's lady love is Olivia (Livy) Kowalski, a fierce half-Asian/half-Polish honey badger shifter with a wild and crazy family who is a photo-artist going through a time of creative block. As Livy explains, her family members are thieves: "Their targets ranged from art to silver, gold, banks, and crown jewels. The funny thing was, Livy had done all she could to pull herself away from this part of her life. She was an artist, a phrase that offended her mother on a visceral level. 'We're not artists,' she'd drunkenly snarled during a Thanksgiving dinner many years ago, 'we steal from artists. You never get that right.' " (p. 75) (Click HERE to watch a National Geographic video of the ferocious, snake-eating honey badger. It will give you a better feeling for Livy's constant hunger, her love of honey, her snarling fearlessness, and her relentless temperament.)  

     As the story opens, Livy's family has gathered in Washington, D.C., for her wayward father's funeral and all of the family infighting that entails. Livy is Toni Jean-Louis Parker's best friend, and we got to know Livy and her family in the eighth novel, in which she played a key part in the main story line. When Livy accentually discovers that her father's death was not caused by his own unfortunate life choices, as everyone in the family believed, she is overcome by an unshakable need for vengeance. In actuality, Dad was killed by hunters hired by Frankie "The Rat" Whitlan, the Wolf-shifter villain whose story line simmered in the background in novel 8. After Livy's horrific discovery, the action part of the plot shifts into gear as Vic and Livy, along with their friends and allies, form a plan to figure out the identity of the traitorous shifter who is assisting Whitlan and then take down everyone involved in this nefarious scheme…permanently.

     The early chapters move very slowly as Livy sulks around, snarling at her friends and associates at the Sports Center and generally being a pain in the neck (or somewhere lower in the anatomy). To provide some comic relief, Laurenston throws in a weird scene in which Livy visits Vic's home in Honeyville, Massachusetts, where she puts on a suit of armor and jousts with some shifters at a Renaissance Faire, but that comes off as an unsuccessful, unconnected bit of fluff. Meanwhile, Vic keeps looking after Livyfirst as a friend, and then as a loveralways "getting" her and always saying or doing just the right thing to help her deal with her current depressive state of mind. His character is too nice to be true, and hers is over-the-top nastywith both lacking the humor shown by most of the shifter couples in this series.  

     Although I always enjoy Laurenston's outrageously unrefined shifters, this novel did not engage my interest to the same degree as the earlier ones. Vic, Livy, and the snake-eating Kowalski-Yang family don't have the same level of earthy humor as the hilarious Smith family, so the laughs are fewer and less entertaining. Here's hoping that the next novel will give us a Smith-centered story line.

     One last note: Please be sure to read Laurenston's "Dear Reader" letter at the beginning of the book in which she explains and defends the cover art, which doesn't exactly match Vic's hybrid appearance. In many ways, that letter is funnier than the book itself.  

     I don't know why I haven't been keeping up with this series because I read and enjoyed the earlier books in the series, but I guess I just let it slip through the cracks. Laurenston is a good storyteller, and this is a solid series with over-the-top snarky humor, sexy romance, and lots of action.    

In this series, the action revolves around several streetwise shifter groups (i.e., lions, tigers, wolves, bears, wild dogs, hyenas) on the urban East coast. The dialogue is raunchy, the sex is hot, and the humorous sniping among the characters never stops. 

     Each book follows a shifter couple from lust at first sight to soul-mate status, with lots of graphic sex and coarse language adding spice to their stories. Click HERE to go to the PRIDE World Connections page on Laurenston's web site, which contains brief character descriptions of series regulars.  

Here is a book-by-book list of the soul-mate couples in this series:
      > "Like a Wolf with a Bone":  Eggie Ray Smith (Wolf) and Darla Mae Lewis (Wolf)
      > The Mane Event: Mace Llewellyn (Grizzly) & Desiree "Dez" MacDermot (Human); Brendon Shaw (Lion) & Rhonda Lee "Ronnie Lee" Reed (Wolf) 
      > The Beast in Him:  Bobby Ray "Smitty" Smith (Wolf) & Jessica "Jess" Ward (African Wild Dog)
      > The Mane Attraction:  Mitch Shaw (Lion) & Sissy Mae Smith (Wolf)
      > The Mane Squeeze:  Lachlan "Lock" MacRyrie (Grizzly) & Gwen O'Neill (Lion/Tiger)
      > Beast Behaving Badly: Bo Novikov (Polar Bear/Lion) & Blayne Thorpe (African Wild Dog/Wolf) 
      > Big Bad Beast:  Ulrich "Ric" van Holtz (Wolf) & Dee-Ann Smith (Wolf)
      > Bear Meets Girl: Lou "Crush" Crushek (Polar Bear) & Marcella "Cella" Malone (Siberian Tiger)
      > Wolf with Benefits: Richar Richard "Ricky Lee" Smith (Wolf) & Toni Jean-Louis Parker (Jackal)
      > Bite Me: Vic Barinov (Grizzly/Siberian Tiger) & Olivia "Livy" Kowalski (Honey Badger)   

     Laurenston has also written two similar series: MAGNUS PACK (modern-day shifters) under her own name, and DRAGONKIN (Medieval soul mates) as G. A. Aiken. Click HERE to view the "SERIES LIST" posted on Laurenston's web site.     

             BOOK 8:  Wolf with Benefits             
     Good-ole wolf boy Ricky Lee Reed is one of three bachelor brothers who are security experts in New York City, although their roots (and their accents) reach all the way back to the mountains of Tennessee. When Ricky meets Toni Jean-Louis Parker, a female jackal shifter from a large wealthy family, he knows that he's met his matchand his mate. 

     Toni has ten brothers and sisters, and she is the only one who exhibits absolutely no artistic or intellectual genius. Her other siblings showed their talents when they were very young, becoming famous artists, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, and dancers at a very early age. Toni's talent lies in her organizational skills, and she has had to keep her talented, but troublesome, siblings in line ever since she was a teenager. Toni's brothers and sistersespecially the younger onesare spoiled, narcissistic brats who argue and fight amongst themselves continuously, relying on Toni to keep their complicated schedules straight and to get them out of the trouble they cause for themselves. 

     Up to this point in her life, Toni has had no life of her own, but that changes when she takes a stressful job at Ulrich (Ric) Van Holtz's Sports Center, a massive agency that manages a big-time hockey team as well as other sports interests. When Toni is sent off to Russia to negotiate a hockey contract with the Russian Bears, Ricky goes along to protect her, and their mutual attraction turns into much more than the simple one-nighter he was expecting.

     Laurenston never has just one story line, and this book follows that same pattern. We have Toni's best friend, Livy, a fierce and belligerent shifter who squats illegally in other people's apartments and takes down shifters three times her size. Then, there's Toni's sociopathic sister, Delilah, who gets involved with a cult and turns against her family in a most violent manner. Another sister is agoraphobic until she gets involved with a roller derby team and discovers that she enjoys the danger and the competition. One of the younger brothers is a computer genius, but he's also a thief and a firebug when he gets stressed out. Then, we have Toni's mother, a famous violinist, who is scheming to become the mentor of the talented son of the Wild Dog shifters across the street. And let's not forget Novikov, the OCD hockey player who runs his life on a tight schedule and pummels anyone who interferes with it. Novikov babysits Toni's siblings while she is in Russia, and his massively unsuccessful attempts to schedule their lives and control their endless bickering are quite amusing to watch.

     Ricky Lee has his share of story lines as wellthe primary one being his ex-girlfriend's unanticipated and unwanted visit to Manhattan. Laura Jane starts causing trouble between Ricky and his sisters as soon as she arrives in town. Then, Ricky's mother shows up to add even more complications to the situation. In other words, there's always something going onnever a lag in the action and definitely never a dull moment. 

     In addition to all of these story lines, there is one percolating in the background that involves a man named Whitlan, who kidnaps shifters and then sells the victims to rich humans who enjoy hunting shifters and stuffing them in their animal forms to display as trophies. Whitlan never shows up in this book, but there are several scenes in which he is mentioned. Some of this book's supporting characters are attempting to track him downbut that piece of the plot is all talk and no action in this story.

     If you haven't read the earlier books, you may have to skim over some of the references to past events, but that shouldn't matter too much. I have read the early books, but not the last three, and I didn't have any problem keeping up with the plot. The characters are entertaining, and the snarky dialogue sometimes makes you laugh out loud. Ricky's street-tough, steel-magnolia sisters are particularly fun to watch. If you like humorous, angst-free paranormal romance, this series is for you.

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