Tour’s Books Blog

June 24, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: On the Prowl by Crystal Jordan (erotic romance)

Every so often I make an impulse buy – OK, maybe more than ‘every so often’ – and it turns out well. Other times it’s a solid ‘meh’. Occasionally, it’s DNF. I gave a new, to me at least, author a try with Crystal Jordan. The publisher is Kensington Aphrodisia – who I have reluctantly managed to forgive for the Lords of the Satyr series. Ms Jordan has another book coming out this fall. On the Prowl is a collection of 3 novellas about the Cruz family, hereditary leaders on the North American Black Panthers. In this world, black panthers are not genetic variants on several cats, but a discrete breed of born shapeshifters. There are Prides on all continents, but North and South America have the largest. Antonio Cruz has just returned home from years of ‘fostering’ with the South American Pride to take over the North American Panters on the death of his father. No love was lost between the man and his 4 children. His sister, Andrea, an ex-model, lives in New York and runs her own fashion design company after his father’s behavior forced her to leave the Pride. His twin brothers, a rare event among panthers, Ricardo and Diego, live in the Pride house and act as the Pride’s lawyers and advisors to their brother.

The Cruz family is unusually large. Panthers usually have one off-spring, maybe, if they are very lucky, there are two. Panther cubs are conceived while in cat form, so they cannot mate outside their species nor can they impregnate any female except their mate. Frankly, I’m surprised they’ve survived as a species given the many breeding constraints, small population and limited gene pool. Unlike many shifter books, here each cat gets a life mate, so once mated, no fooling around. Panthers that cannot shift are usually ejected from the Pride, often killed to keep their existence a secret. They all seem to live together at the Pride home in Pacific Heights, though that part is a bit fuzzy. How do you hide that many screaming cats in a city like San Francisco?

Claim Me – Antonio Cruz is on a rooftop watching as his mate is cornered in an alley by 3 men. Shifters. Antonio shifts and goes to her rescue. The three are the young Ruiz brothers, members of his Pride. They clash and he sends them back to the Pride. He turns to the female, his mate, Solana, and slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am, they have sex in the alley, but she is specific, no biting, no full claiming. Apparently, biting in this ‘world’ is used to mate. Panthers cannot be ‘made’ by biting, they must be born. As a non-shifter, Solana cannot be the mate of a shifter, especially the Pride leader. After some back alley hot sex, Antonio goes back to the Pride house to deal with the Ruiz brothers and the frustration of finding a mate and being unable to claim her.

Antonio finds his brothers, Diego and Ricardo, having a threesome and his second, Miguel Montoya, waiting for him. Miguel became his closest friend while he was ‘fostered’ in South America. His temper uncertain, Miguel insists it would be better if he handled the disciplining of the Ruiz brothers. Antonio tells his brothers to investigate Solana, but not entirely why.

Unable to stay away from a mate, Antonio goes to the bar Solana owns and operates. Again, driven by the powerful mating urges, they have sex. Staying away from each other might be impossible. Solana even considers selling her business and moving. Antonio brings Solana into the Pride house when she’s threatened. She tells him of her parents and her mother’s inability to control herself, which eventually led to her death – a horrific accident she saw. In the end, Solana’s in ability to shift makes no difference to him – he’ll step down and allow his sister to lead the Pride rather than lose his mate. There’s a predictable twist at the end of Claim Me and the story moves seamlessly into Andrea’s return to the Pride.

My Grade: C- (2.75*)

Take Me – Andrea Cruz is required to return to the Pride to give her oath of fealty. Former model and founder and primary designer for Pantheras Designs, a highly successful clothing line for men and women, she has no interest in returning to Pride life. She knows that, as a near heir her brother Antonio won’t let her leave once she’s there. She’s met at the airport by Miguel Montoya, his second, and instantly knows this is her mate. Miguel has long since given up hope of finding his mate. He’s 40 years old and like most panthers, unmated at 30 he toured all the Prides looking for his mate and never found her. Now she sits in the limo with him and the mating urge is overwhelming and they have sex, but Andrea refuses to allow Miguel’s mating bite.

The reunion with her family has Miguel tense as Andrea’s reactions trigger all his protective instincts. Why does she fear them so? Distrust them? The Cruz’s are good people, better people than his own family. Miguel does not understand the fear. Even after being assured that she wouldn’t be expected to give up her business, Andrea remains tense and very unhappy about being there, and not exactly thrilled at finding her mate.

There’s a bunch of sex and Miguel’s D/s side makes an appearance, but still Andrea will not permit a mating. Then Miguel’s grandfather dies and Miguel must return to Brazil to give his oath to his uncle, the heir. Andrea ends going back to NYC.

Once in Brazil, Miguel’s scheming uncle plans to force the mating and contacts Antonio about sending his sister to Brazil to force the bond. The fragile inter-pride politics enter into play here, but Miguel’s uncle loses his powerplay. The ending of Take Me, while predictable was more satisfying than trite ending of Claim Me. The D/s is kept to a minimum.

My Grade: C (3*)

Need Me – This third story in the collection is the de rigeur twin’s ménage. Isabel Rivera is fleeing a forced mating to the heir to the European Pride, Enrique Garcia. In his delusion he bit her but the mark did not take. Only true matings leave a mark. Isabel is hoping Solana, who she knew while she lived in Spain for a time, could help her. As mate of the North American Pride leader, she hoped for sanctuary. Rumor was the Antonio Cruz was a liberal leader, totally unlike his ultra-traditionalist father.

Isabel is a nervous wreck meeting Antonio, even with Solana’s assurances. A place in the pride is all she wants. She a fine pastry chef, her first love, though she had been forced to act as a clerk to Enrique so he could keep her near. She’ll do whatever job the Pride needs. She knows the problems this could cause Antonio with the European Pride and hopes he won’t turn her away. Solana assures her she will do all she can and goes and hunts down Ricardo to check with Isabel on the legal issues. Of all the things Isabel expected, she never expected to find her mate – younger mate! And of all the responses from a mate Ricardo expected, “You’re way too young for me,” was not at the top of the list. The Cruz twins were famous, or infamous, in the panther world for love of extreme sports and generally wild life style.

They have the ‘closet sex’ before she goes to meet his brother Antonio. Ric drops her at Antonio’s office and staggers into the one he shares with Diego and tells him he’s met his mate. The shock of it all hadn’t worn off Ric and Diego, the more reckless of the two, feels a bit adrift being truly alone for the first time in his life. He goes to Antonio’s office and Isabel mistakes him Ric, though she’s confused by the slightly different smell, it’s still the same and her senses are screaming it’s her mate – but it’s also Diego. First a male tries to claim her that she knows wasn’t her mate, then she meets her true mate, and he’s younger than she and now his identical twin is also her mate? It does not happen! She wants a quiet life, free of drama. No she faces two mates.

Mates are not automatically happy together, that takes work. Isabel lost her parents in an accident and has no sense of adventure. The twins are all about thrills. They convince her to skydive and finally to do some rock diving, but while with Deigo he takes too many chances and she loses it with him. The twins, for all their apparent carefree ways spent years enduring their father’s emotional abuse and it came out in Ric’s overworking and Diego’s extreme recklessness. Settling in is no easy thing for any of them, then a trip to Africa to recognize the new leader of the remnants of the Pride after a long civil war, means running into the Garcias, who have been demanding her back.

The ending of Need Me, like the others, is very predictable. Overall, I rather liked the female characters far better than the males characters, though all were straight from central casting.

My Grade: C (3*)

None of the stories in On the Prowl explored any new ground or had any innovative features or characters.  Uninspired rather sums it up. They were ‘safe’ stories that took no chances.  The novella format has a lot of limitations built in, but the stories were rather slight, so short was all for the best here. As noted up front, the ‘world’ and the internal logic regarding procreation of the species dictated extinction eons ago, so you had get past that hurdle of their mere existence to begin with. After that you took what was written at face value and any attempt to apply logic had to be ignored, so don’t think too hard about any of this, it’s an exercise in futility.

Additionally, and likely the fault of Ms Jordan’s editor or publisher, the pattern of m/f story, followed by a m/f with D/s and finally the m/f/m twin thing is getting so damn predictable it’s annoying. I knew when the characters were introduced how each story line HAD to play out against the strange cadence that erotic romance publishing has embraced. Come on people, surely the talent deserves better and the readers sure as hell do!

Who would enjoy this book: Anyone who likes the novella format and straight forward shifter romance without any surprises, but fairly well written. The rating for this book is x.

TRIVIA: The cat family Panthera is exclusively the 4 ‘great cats’ whose distinguishing feature is they roar, they do not scream. They are the tiger, lion, jaguar and leopard. The cougar, also called mountain lion or panther, cannot roar although its size equals that of the leopard. Cougars, aka panther, are of the genus Puma, not Panthera.  Thank-you Wikipedia!

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