Tour’s Books Blog

October 27, 2009

Book Reviews: Two Hot New Paranormals

  • Title: Cat’s Meow
  • Author: Nicole Austin
  • Type:  Contemporary Paranormal
  • Genre: Shifter
  • Sub-genre: Mad scientist creates shifter soldiers a la Breeds
  • My Grade: D+ to C- (2.5*)
  • Rating: NC-17
  • Length: Novella about 35,000 words sold as a short novel at $5.20
  • Where Available: ebook from Ellora’s Cave
  • FTC Disclosure: ebook purchased from publisher

Nicole Austin tries her hand at a variation on the theme created by Lora Leigh in her Breeds books of gene splicing human and animal DNA and .  Cat’s Meow takes us to the start of of genetic manipulation by a scientist with no morals, ethics or humanity – just a burning need to push for the ultimate thrill of highly illegal scientific breakthrough on the thin excuse of creating the ultimate soldier.  The seeds of a really good romantic suspense thriller with a sexy edge were laid here, but never bloomed.

Let me open by saying that I remain somewhat ambivalent on Nichole Austin’s work.  I have yet to read anything of hers that’s unique, original and exceptionally well written.  She tends to specialize in contemporaries, not my favorite genre overall, especially for erotic fiction.  This book is steamy and a shifter book with action, normally a trope that I’ll forgive a lot for,  but this one was more predictable and dull than interesting, though it certainly has its moments.

The bones of Cat’s Meow are good.  Micah Lassiter is a classic tough ex-military spec ops character and Rebecca Southerby is the usual heroine, educated, independent and never loved.  This time the heroine has an expertise dealing with big cats.  Here’s the first problem.  I believe in Rebecca as a woman, but not as a big cat expert.  Her responses were all wrong.  And despite being positioned as a very intelligent woman, she makes some dumb mistakes – including a monumental one right at the start.  Micah was also believable to a point, but no spec ops guy used to being in charge would ignore the fundamental psychological flaw in the man who hired him.  Top notch operators must be outstanding judges of character and several months around such a person is more than enough time to see character flaws of this magnitude.  I could get over that part, but not enough to fully buy into the plot.

The story opens with Micah Lassiter, a retired spec ops guy, rescuing Rebecca Southerby from the unwanted advances of a drunk in a restaurant, they have dinner and the attraction is both immediate and very strong, so they they also have a night together filled with wild monkey sex.  Months after a one night stand, Rebecca starts a new job working for Gabriel Weltman at Nanotech and is stunned to find herself confronted by Micah in a cage at a bio-tech facility.  For the first time ever, he shifts to a lion and scares the crap of Rebecca and gets himself shot full of tranquilizers.  Weltman tells Rebecca it’s her job to  help Micah learn to control his inner beast.

Together, Rebecca and Micah hatch a plot to help free him – in part thanks to the handy lack of audio surveillance allowing them to plot freely.  The current head of security at the compound was a man that Micah picked himself, but his allegiance is equivocal.  Somehow, a very simplistic plan gets Micah free of the compound and Rebecca commits the ultimate folly of going BACK there!  Now really, how stupid can anyone two people be? at aside, you have other ‘experiments’ going on, including one on an unwilling ‘volunteer’ security man that Micah knows.  A simple gun shot to Weltman’s head would have solved so many problems!  Instead, Micah ‘rescues’ Rebecca The ending includes the ‘big reveal’ about what happened as a result of the wild monkey sex.  Micah is getting some reliable ex-spec ops buddies together at the secure cabin so they can go and get the other ‘experiments’ free.  Next chapter you’re in Africa waiting for Micah to return.  HUH?  Wait a minute, we have a reunion and no clue what went down at Nanotech?  That was a major cheat.

This story just had so many flaws and one chronic one common to the romantic suspense genre, especially erotic romantic suspense – the  setups all have fatal flaw.  The men with the guns could easily overcome the mad scientists.  Finding men that are as morally flawed as the megalomaniacs that run these things isn’t all that easy.  They are not religious or political ‘true believers’, nor are the men under duress – threats to family or other other innocents as guarantee of their loyalty,  just money.  The bond among former sepc ops and military types is quite strong and most would realize that “there but for the grace of God go I” and work to stop the horror happening to their fellow operators.  To make this work, you need the ‘true believers’, the ones that drink the Kool-Aid, not mercenaries.

OK, let’s say we ignore that issue, let’s look at the our heroine, Rebecca Southerby.  A crazy scientist, Gabriel Weltman,  hires a woman he has no experience with and lets her in on a secret so monumental it would get him killed 8 ways from Sunday or slapped into Leavenworth till the end of time.  He then allows this unknown person the latitude to do all manner of things that endanger him very directly with minimum of direct control because she’s cute?  I know this is an essential plot element, but if the guy was that damn stupid, he would have died at the hands of a security guard long ago.  A pretty face could only be so much of a distraction, no more.  You don’t get to those levels without a very healthy sense of self preservation with a big dose of paranoia.

As a huge mystery, action thriller, and romantic suspense fan, books like Cat’s Meow have a tough ride with me.   ‘Selling’ a spec ops type persona and the accuracy of technical detail very important to me.   The nuance of reality is what makes these stories sink or swim even with erotic romantic suspense – and this one was more steamy than erotic.  Lora Leigh makes a lot of technical errors in her Elite Ops books and I just had to stop reading them, but in her Breeds books she usually steers clear of the situations that trip her up in Elite Ops, so more often than not, the Breeds books work for me.  Unfortunately, Cat’s Meow is too short to weave the plot elements together together into a believable world or create enough character detail to make the whole premise work.  I was left with the impression that Ms Austin was exploring an area somewhat outside her expertise and wasn’t entirely comfortable with action/thriller elements.  Again, this is perhaps more of an issue to me me because I read so much in the genre outside romance.  The ending was exceptionally unsatisfying.  At $5,20 this super lightweight story wasn’t worth the money.


  • Title: Dance on the Wilde Side
  • Author: Beverly Rae
  • Type: Contemporary Paranormal
  • Genre: Shifter – werewolves
  • Sub-genre: Hidden werewolf past; alpha finds mate
  • My Grade: C+ (3.3*)
  • Rating: NC-17
  • Length: Full novel at about 80,000 words for $5.50
  • Where Available: ebook only at Samhain (hyperlink for convenience only)
  • FTC Disclosure: ebook purchased on publisher’s website

Tala Wilde is a vet who works with a zoo and does TV spots.  It might be Denver, but she’s a bit of a local celebrity.  She’s also lonely, so lonely she steps outside a bar she’s with her friend to be found on all fours howling at the moon like a wolf – startling both of them.  But her call is heard and answered by Devlin Cannon, an alpha werewolf.  He finds himself watching her in her window as she indulges in self pleasuring.  It gets him shot in the ass in a load of buck shot coated with silver.

She finds Dev in her vet clinic bleeding all over and patches up as best she can.  For some reason she feels drawn to this lunatic and her rational mind does battle with some deep instinct, one that wants him.  She ends up taking pity on him when he shows up at her apartment door still bleeding.  The damn silver coated buckshot he would have been healed, but getting naked for his mate works for him and Dev is not one to pass up an opportunity.  She obviously has no idea she’s called him, or what he is.  This could be difficult.  It gets more complicated when hunters show up – hunters who specialize in hunting and killing shifters.

Against her better judgment, she ends up having balls to the wall type sex with him.  There’s just something about him, his voice, the way he commands her, that she finds a complete turn-on.  Then Dev slips and bites her during sex and she throws him out.  Wondering why she seems to long to have him back and rejecting his werewolf tale, she goes to see her grandfather, the one who told the stories about werewolves in the family.  This steamy romance unfolds against the threat of the hunters and later, a threat from a nasty little man, George, she fires from the zoo for abusing a female wolf.  The hunters grab the disgruntled man and use him and his knowledge of Tala to set a trap to catch Devlin and his second in command, Conner.

There is some very real tension, but the resolution is just too neat and tidy.  George gets a very special revenge.  Again, a bit too neat and tidy.  Yes, I do look for more action, but given all the build-up for the hunters and George, I figured the readers deserved it.  The story of Tala’s self-discovery and the way she views shifters, from complete disbelief to wanting badly to shift, was decent.  The whole ‘talking wolf’ thing was unlikely based on mouth shape alone, but hey, it’s fiction, so anything is possible.  There were several funny scenes, especially the one where Devlin finds Tala watching an old werewolf movie and trying to shift and she tries to explain it away:

Tala tugged at her disheveled shirt and mentally dug in her heels. “It’s a new fitness trend sweeping the nation.”
She glared at him, miffed by his smugness. “Yeah. Really.”
“And what do you call this new workout? Abs of Steel for the Alpha Wolf? Pilates for Predators? Tae Bo for Timber Wolves?”
Okay, so the guy is funny. She stammered, searching her brain for any title halfway plausible. “Um, it’s called Maniacal Yoga.” Oh, shit. That name sucks.

Dance on the Wilde Side has some excellent moments, lots of sex, several interesting plot ideas, but thanks to the weaknesses with key plot elements, it was just a good read, but not a barn burner.


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