Review: Dark Wolf

ImageTitle: Dark Wolf [Spirit Wild 1]

Author: Kate Douglas

Genre: Paranormal, Erotica, Romance, Shape-Shifters, Fantasy

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: Sebastian Xenakis is still coming into his power as a wizard. He can shapeshift by magical means and runs as a wolf using the power he draws from the elements. But young women are dying—raped by a human and then slaughtered by a wolf. Suspicion falls on the shapeshifting Chanku, but Sebastian wonders if he might somehow be guilty of the crimes.

Then he meets Lily Cheval, the uncrowned princess of the powerful Chanku, and realizes he will do whatever it takes to clear his name and win her love. But evil walks where Sebastian goes, and there are mysteries neither Lily nor her father, the powerful wizard, Anton Cheval, cannot unravel. Is Sebastian the perfect mate for Lily, or is he instead, one she should fear?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

First off, I need a disclaimer. I don’t read a lot of erotica. I don’t particularly care for it, because usually what I’m looking for in a romance, is the actual romance – not necessarily the sex. unfortunately, I didn’t realize this was an Erotica when I picked it up, so I was a bit thrown at first when I discovered it was.

Overall, this was a good book. There was intrigue, obviously bad guys, and some wonderful world building that I enjoyed. I did find the sex scenes a bit blunt for my liking, but again, I’m not a huge fan of erotica. I got used to it after awhile, and it didn’t really detract from the story for me – but usually I do prefer my sex-scenes to be integrated a little more smoothly into the story. With this book, it seemed there was a sex-scene just about anywhere one could reasonably be thrown in.

Now I have to take a moment to talk about the erotic side of this novel. There were quite a few sex-scenes, and that’s wonderful, this is an erotica after all. Yes, they were a little blunt for my tastes, but again, not a huge fan of erotica. I don’t think it would have bothered most readers. I do have to applaud the author for making it clear that in the Chanku society there really aren’t any reservations when it comes to gender. I sort of wish I’d been warned about the gay/lesbian/orgy scenes beforehand. I don’t have a problem with that lifestyle, but it doesn’t interest me to read about it, and unfortunately, the cues about this being normal in Chanku society didn’t appear until AFTER it had already happened. By then, it was a little too late.

The whole scenario was really written to sound blase, which I found helpful – but later when the main male character kept thinking about his first male/male encounter, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe too much of an issue was being made over the encounter. It’s hard to say “it’s not a big deal” and then turn around and make it a big deal… and then expect your readers to keep agreeing with your first message.

I also found it somewhat strange that the Chanku seemed to put importance on having “one true mate” that they were wholly devoted to, but on the other side of the coin, didn’t seem to have a problem sharing their mates (or themselves) with any person who possessed genitalia. I found it to be contradicting and I almost wish the author had just stuck with one side of the argument. Either have them sexually open, or have them devoted to one person. I’m not sure you can pull off having both at the same time. It made the whole situation very confusing.

Another point I’d like to take the time to mention is the wolf sex. I don’t know if it’s just a me-thing or a human-thing, but reading through animal-sex is not enticing, it’s gross. I could have done without hearing the intimate details of several wolf-couples mating. I really wish it had been glossed over, rather than reading through all the detailed narrative of what it’d be like to have sex as a wolf. It was a neat idea – I’m glad the author had the tenacity to write sex from an animal’s point of view – but it certainly wasn’t high on my list of things I wanted to read about.

I’ll also admit that I was somewhat thrown when I started reading a paranormal shape-shifter book only to discover part way in, that I was actually reading an alien shape-shifter book. It was only mentioned in passing that the Chanku were actually descendants of extra terrestrials from another world, but perhaps the reason I found it so jarring, was because it was only mentioned in passing. It almost seemed as if the author wasn’t quite ready to commit to the story line, so instead lots of different elements were thrown together. (Kind of like how the wolves had one-true-mate but also participated in mass origies) In this case, it seemed it wasn’t enough that there were necromancers, mages, and shape shifters, there had to be aliens too.    I think the fact that there were so many different elements to the story took some of the credibility of the story away. It didn’t feel as real and solid to me because I wasn’t sure what was going to pop up next. I didn’t get the sense that I could trust the author to stick to the world-building. Maybe that’s just because of the way it was executed, or maybe it was the number of unbelievable elements. I don’t know – but it left me with the feeling that things weren’t as cohesive as they should be.

All negative aspects aside, I did really like the characters – particularly Lily, Alex, and Annie. I wanted to like Sebastian, but he just seemed so lost most of the time that I found it hard to appreciate him as a male lead. He sort of radiated a certain weakness to his personality that didn’t convince me of his very masculine role. I certainly don’t feel he came away from the story looking anything like the guy on the cover.

Lily however, was a very strong, independent female character – and I thoroughly enjoyed her personality. Annie was adorable in a soft girl-next-door sort of way, and Alex I think fit into the male lead role very well. It’s actually a shame that he and Lily weren’t destined to be together – but on the other side of things, I really enjoyed their deep relationship. They were what friends should be. They loved each other greatly, and were comfortable enough  in their relationship to have sex, and talk about intimacies with other characters without feeling insecure or jealous. It was a beautiful relationship – and I found it endearing that Alex tried so hard to make Sebastian feel at home with their group.

I do really wish there had been more of a plot twist to the story. It wasn’t a surprise to find that the main evil guy of the story was … well… doing evil things (not to reveal too much!) It also wasn’t a surprise that rogue Chanku were helping him. The author took every opportunity to hint or explain things in a way that really didn’t leave much to the imagination as far as plot went. So when we got to the big end-all scene where the good guys fight the bad guys, it lacked a sense of satisfaction. Instead of going “omgosh I can’t believe that’s what was going on!”, it was more like “Yah yah, get the battle over so we can see the squishy romance bit at the end.”

For the most part, I enjoyed the book – mostly the character relationships and the detailed narrative that really gave me a sense that I was there. From a technical standpoint, the story was well written. On the other side of the coin though, I think a lot of things could have been written better – or at least cleaner. I’m leaving this review with a solid 3 stars. This one was a mixed bag. I’d still recommend it to anyone who enjoys paranormal fantasy stories full of magic and shape-shifting, or anyone who enjoys erotica. Just be forewarned about he gay/lesbian orgies and the animal-sex, and I think you’ll be prepared. It was a fun afternoon read, but not what I’d consider a serious fantasy novel.

Book Review: Impersonation

ImageTitle: Impersonation

Author: Tamsin Kate Walker

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 2 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: “I caught a glimpse of myself today…I saw my description in the pages of a book, in the words of a man I have never met.”

When Ruth receives a new novel from her book club, she is immediately intrigued. ‘The Ruthlessness of One Man’ claims to be about a real-life London commuter and, as Ruth delves further into the dark tale, she makes a sinister discovery.

She is that commuter.

As Ruth reads on and becomes convinced that the author, Mr Walden, intends her to be more than just his muse, she must unravel the story to uncover just what he has in store for her, both on paper and in reality. Ultimately, she only has the book itself to piece together Mr Walden’s identity and motive. But can she do it in time to stop herself from becoming the victim of a twisted literary plot?

WARNING – SPOILERS WILL ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I had a very difficult time getting through this book – but perhaps I should explain first. Impersonation is a story about a woman, Ruth Morton (who oddly enough shares my last name!), who one day receives a copy of a book in her mail from a book club and upon reading it, discovers that she is the protagonist. Somewhere in the world a man she doesn’t know saw her on a London commuter train and decided to write a book based on her appearance. The problem is, the image he paints of Ruth isn’t flattering, and worse still, as she continues to read the story, it starts to take a dark turn. Through the course of the book we learn that Ruth is being stalked by parties unknown, and this stalker is hell-bent on inserting himself into her life.

Now, understand that I am not a great lover of first-person present tense, so getting into this book was already quite difficult for me. I’m a strong advocate for 1st or 3rd person past tense, and felt it difficult to connect to the characters through the impersonality of the format. That being said, as I read on, I found it nearly impossible to like or even feel particular sympathy for any of the characters. Their personalities were flat, their actions wholly unbelievable, and there was an almost overwhelming and tragic sense of desperation for each of the characters portrayed.

There were a few instances in this book where I literally paused and wrote myself a note about the ridiculousness of the character’s actions. For example, at one point Ruth meets a man by the name of James. The portrait we’re painted of this man is that he’s an older, divorced man working in a dilapidated building that smells of urine. At the time of their meeting, Ruth believes he may actually be her stalker, and even runs away from him. Despite this, by the end of the day she’s willing to sleep with him, and ends up pining for him for the rest of the book (despite the fact that he showed little more than superficial interest in her). I couldn’t find the appeal or even the attraction in their relationship, and it seemed absurd at the time that she would throw herself into a relationship with this stranger (when she already had a boyfriend at home I might add) amidst her obvious paranoia.

At another point, her mother hires a private investigator to follow her own daughter around. Why? Because she doesn’t speak to her often enough for her own liking and wants to contrive a way to insert herself into her daughter’s life (A theme that continues until the very end of the book). Quite frankly, her mother came off nearly as creepy and disturbing as the stalker. By the end of the story I was utterly disgusted at this woman’s meddling.

Another part of this book I had trouble with was the random dropping of crossword puzzle questions all throughout the narrative. The first time I came across it I had no idea what it meant – it was a jumble of words that didn’t seem to make any good English sense, followed by a series of numbers. It was not explained, and was simply dropped into bits and pieces of the narrative. I was so put off by these odd little additions that I actually deleted and re-downloaded my copy of the book to make sure it wasn’t some sort of strange publishing error. Upon finding that it was indeed, intended to be in the book (and it was later hinted that these were crossword references) I simply chose to ignore every instance of italicized text after that point to avoid confusion. Though the back of the book had the answers to the crossword questions and it became obvious (after I’d read the book) that the answers pertained to the story itself, I found their use distracting and needless. The story read fine without the insertions, and there didn’t seem to be any clear reason why they were added in the first place. Crosswords were only mentioned twice in the entire book, and only in fleeting mention.

All of that aside, the story was interesting, and after attempting to ignore the actions of the main characters and the crossword bits, I was able to appreciate the mystery of the storyline. Watching Ruth being stalked by the mysterious book writer was very much like watching a train wreck in that it held a macabre interest. I wanted to see how the story played out, and quite frankly, I was hoping to see the main character get killed. Not only that, but the characters themselves were so… at odds with the world around them – so muddled in their thoughts and actions that I could only sit back and watch them fall apart from the sidelines.

I don’t know that I would recommend this book to anyone but the very clever, and the very disturbed (which I’ll admit I am) who think it fascinating to watch a series of characters fall apart. I didn’t walk away from this book with a positive feeling of where the plot ended, nor towards any of the characters themselves. It’s like driving by a car crash.. you just want to peek at the misery and drive away with as little guilt as possible. I left this book with an impression of uneasiness that was not easily shook at the time of this review, nearly 2 hours later.