Tour’s Books Blog

November 5, 2009

Book Review: The Mane Squeeze by Shelly Laurenston

  • Title: The Mane Squeeze
  • Author: Shelly Laurenston
  • Type: Paranormal Romance
  • Genre: Humorous shifter with serious edge
  • Sub-genre: Pack and Pride series
  • My Grade: B+ (4.4*)
  • Rating: NC-17
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased from online bookseller

After the very disappointing Pack story in Belong to the Night, Shelly Laurenston is pretty much back in form with The Mane Squeeze, her latest entry in the Pack and Pride series.  This story starts at the wedding of Jessie Ann and Bobby Ray on Long Island.  Jessie Ann is good friends with grizzly shifter, Lachlan ‘Lock’ MacRyrie and the bear reluctantly gets dressed up and attends.  Bears aren’t fond of socializing, but for Jessie Ann, he’ll do it. Then he sees something interesting – Gwen O’Neill.  Interrupted in his slow efforts to get to know Gwen by Brandon, whom he just casually tosses about 50 feet away, Lock waits months mentally berating himself for not making more of the opportunity with her.

Gwen O’Neill, a tiger/lion hybrid – a tigon, is the apple of Mitch Shaw’s life, his baby sister.  Naturally, Brandon Shaw – male lion and the half brother of her half-brother, feels responsible for her while Mitch and Sissy Mae Smith are in Japan building a branch of the security company that Mitch and wolf pack alpha Bobby Ray started.  Brandon asks her up to the Shaw home in Northwest New Jersey where several packs, prides and clans have expansive territories.  She and her best friend, another hybrid, wolf-dog Blayne, go off to enjoy the area in their pelts.  Gwen hears her friend yipping in distress and finds her being attacked by a pack of wolves.  She charges in and more wolves show up.  Then she spies a sleeping bear.  She deliberately leaps in the grizzly and bites his hump.  The bear does what all bears do when startled awake – he gets up swinging.  Wolves go flying from a full boar rage, but the edge of the cliff is too close and she and the bear end up going over.

Lock’s dreams of honey coated salmon leaping into his mouth dissolves into a short war with a bunch of wolves.  As he slips over the edge of the cliff he was sleeping on, he  manages to snap out of his rage long enough to grab Gwen as they fall toward the river.  Gwen is badly injured from the fight, but obviously has an irrational fear of hospitals.  He gets her there, despite her protest that they would just harvest her organs for the black market, and after she exists via a window into a tree, he agrees to stay with her till she wakes up.  But the meddlesome half-brother of her half-brother, AKA Brendon Shaw – called the cops, or more correctly the polar bear ranger that keeps the peace.  Even a grizzly thinks twice about going after a polar bear, so Lock has to break his promise and leave.

Lock and Gwen meet again at Ulrich ‘Ric’ Von Holtz’s home when she comes to thank him.  He been complaining to Ric that he should have made more of an effort to keep his promise to stay with Gwen till she woke up.  He should have called her for a date after the wedding.  He’s having a case of bear sulk when Gwen shows up to thank him for saving her life and once again Lock lets her slip through his paws.

Blayne is offered her father’s business and she asks Gwen to go to NYC with her to run it as a full partner.  Gwen manages to find the courage to leave her pride and her mother and go follow her dream.  Lock’s mother calls him early in the morning – not the best time to wake a bear – and tells him to get to the family home.  His father will likely drive the plumber to homicide asking questions and “helping” as he investigates how the pipes work.  Lock arrives and finds his dad driving none other than Gwen O’Neill crazy.  The two professor MacRyries need a new hot water heater.  She stays for dinner when Lock’s mother, a feminist bear professor (honestly, that just cracked me up), wants to interview Gwen about becoming a plumber.

Bears are prone to long, thoughtful pondering of decisions – unless startled.  Then they do a very bear thing – come out fighting and maul anything in striking distance.  But Lock has spent a lot of time ‘pondering’ Gwen and he finally asks her out.  The romance part moves along – with a little concerted help from friends.  Meanwhile, Blayne is trying to hide the fact she’s joined a shifter roller derby team from Gwen.  It seems Roxy McNeill, Gwen’s mom, was famous on the circuit.  But shifter roller derby is a lot like shifter car races, a kind of free-for-all somewhat reminiscent of the car race in The Mane Attraction, but Gwen never made it in the game. Eventually, Gwen has to face her fears about not measuring up to her mother’s reputation, the fact that as a hybrid she never really was or would be part of the pride, and her defensive reaction to anything – what Lock calls preemptive arguing.  Lock has to face his insecurities, his fears of not being good enough at his ‘art’ – high end, one of a kind furniture pieces, as well as come to terms with his past.  Lock even opens up about his trouble re-adjusting to life after 8 years in the ‘Unit’ where he served with Dee Ann, his ‘Marine buddy’, the risk of a full boar rage, and his self-conscious reaction about how others react to his size.  The Halloween costume party was a hoot.  And I really liked the way Lock asked Gwen to marry him.

Gwen and Lock are both likable characters, complex and interesting.  The humor threads throughout the story as well as the casual shifter violence.    The appearance of Niles von Holst with Ulrich and the ‘Group’, sort of a secret shifter enforcement unit that takes care of shifters that sell out their own kind, suggests the potential for a change in direction in the Pack and Pride books.

What’s wrong?  Well, if you haven’t read the previous three books, you’ll be confused for sure as old characters wander in and out of the story.  Too many characters, too many secondary stories, and a strange plot twist in the last quarter of the book that seem to be setting up future books, not filling out the story of the lead characters in THIS book.   At times I felt that the cast of secondary characters where mainly there to provide Ms Laurenston’s trademark over-the-top situations since the two main characters were actually pretty calm and normal by her shifter character standards.  As a result, The Mane Squeeze felt less about Gwen and Lock and more about the whole gang from the previous books and many new characters.  It reads like a ensemble  paranormal fantasy with romantic core rather than a true romance and the first 80 or so pages were a long setup to the story.  Normally, this would a plus for me, but I felt that I got a bit cheated on both Gwen and Lock as characters.  Neither seemed to have the life or verve of the couples in her earlier shifter books, as the Gwen and Lock seemed to serve a dual purpose as both a romance and a stage to setup future books.  That said, Ms Laurenston hit the mark with me in tone, pacing, her brand of off-beat shifter humor, snappy dialogue, and the interaction of her main characters.

The Mane Squeeze felt like a transitional book.  Depending on her destination, this series could easily move in one of several direction, so I guess we’ll all have to wait to see what she has in mind with her next novel.  She could stick with the romance style of her earlier Pack and Pride books, or she might move her shifters more toward a broad scope paranormal similar to her popular Dragonkin series.   Regardless, I’d guess Dee Ann Smith and Ulrich von Holtz will likely be the next story.  We’ll see.  While I’m of two minds about a change in the style to a more sprawling, complex story – and the somewhat darker element she included toward the end with Dee Ann, I do know I’ll be buying the next book without hesitation!  A recommended buy.


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