Soul Mates: Navarro Blaine (Wolf) and Mica Toler
This novel tells the story of Navarro Blaine, a wolf Breed with recessive Breed traits, and Mica Toler, a young human woman who has grown up among the Breeds. (I always love Leigh's characters' names.) The plot is foreshadowed by a vision that Mica's friend, Cassie Sinclair, has in the Prologue:
Cassie sees that Mica will achieve contentment, "but it was a potential contentment. A maybe thing. One of the many paths Mica could take. And beside that path was deceit and rage, to the other side was agony and heartache. The path would depend on too many things. It would depend on Mica and on a Breed....Mica was Navarro's mate, but her friend's happiness would lie in another Breed's hands. A Breed other than her mate." (pp. 18-19)
Although this is the typically steamy soul-mate romance story one expects from this series, I was disturbed by the huge number of typographical and editing errors (particularly in continuity) that turned up again and again. For example, one momentous scene begins with Navarro and Mica, fully clothed, confronting each other in a subterranean hallway and ends with them naked in their bedroom a few paragraphs later, never having left the hallway or cast off their clothing—at least not to the reader's knowledge. Missing pages? Editing error? Careless writing? Whatever it was, something definitely went wrong here.
The plot also has a few holes in it. For example, why were the bad guys so intent on capturing Mica that they sent multiple heavily armed teams of men to search Manhattan for her? Who really knows? (Not the reader, that's for sure.) And why don't Navarro and Mica ever talk through their problems—just once? Never happens—even after they decide that they love each other. The "love thing" just falls into place with absolutely no discussion whatsoever.
Another problem is the unbelievability of the climax. I was reading along, came to that part, and said, "Huh?" (I might have said something a bit stronger.) It was as if Leigh had to wind it up quickly so she threw in...well I can't tell you what she threw in or I'd spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that it's the kind of hokey scene you'd find in a Nancy Drew mystery, like The Hidden Staircase, for instance. Anyhow, Leigh still writes the best erotic sex scenes in paranormal fiction, so if you love that earth-shattering moment when the mating heat takes hold, this one's for you.
BREEDS 25 (story): “An Inconvenient Mate” in Tied with a Bow
Soul Mates: Malachi Morgan (Coyote) and Isabelle Martinez
First Sentence: "She couldn't keep her eyes off him." Ah, yes, lust is definitely in the air, because this is another fiery Breed romance, with the mating heat blazing just as hot as it always does. This time, the lucky lovers are Malachi Morgan, a Coyote Breed, and Isabelle Martinez, daughter of the head of the Navajo Council. The two fall instantly in lust as the Breeds visit to the Navajo Nation in search the elusive Gideon, who is intent on getting his vengeance against the Genetics Council in an up-close and personal manner. The major villain of the story is Isabelle's wannabe suitor, a human who just won't take no for an answer. If you aren't familiar with Leigh's BREEDS series, this is not the place to begin. BREEDS is one of the all-time greatest paranormal romance series on the market today, with a complex mythology and some serious sexual shenanigans, so do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Click HERE to read my review of all of the stories in Tied with a Bow, the anthology in which this story is included.
BREEDS 26 (novel): Lawe's Justice
Soul Mates: Lawe Justice (Lion) and Diane Broen
The events in Lawe's Justice overlap those in the novella, "An Inconvenient Mate," in Tied with a Bow anthology. Lawe's Justice begins with a prologue that finds Lawe Justice, a Lion Breed, and his brother, Rule Breaker, in the cages of Phillip Brandenmore's "scientific" laboratories, listening to the dying screams of their mother, Morningstar Martinez, as she is being vivisected. Flash forward to the present and we have Lawe and Rule working for Jonas Wyatt and the Bureau of Breed Affairs. Lawe is now second in command to Jonas. He has pulled out of active field work because he has discovered that he has a mate, and mated Breeds generally take behind-the-scenes jobs so that they don't risk death to themselves and their mates.
Lawe's potential mate is Diane Broen, the human niece of Phillip Brandenmore, who died in a previous book after spending many years capturing and experimenting on Breeds. Diane has been working as a mercenary commander for years, lately for Jonas and the Breeds. Neither Lawe nor Diane want to complete the mating bond. Lawe keeps remembering his mother's screams as she died, and he doesn't want to put Diane in danger by becoming her full mate. If he does mate with her, though, he wants her to quite her job and stay at home. Diane, on the other hand, sees herself as a warrior, and she's afraid that Lawe will force her to live in the Sanctuary, barefoot and pregnant, as the saying goes. All through the book, they agonize over this problem in endless interior monologues and argue it out in many verbal battles.
The secondary plot line involves Gideon, and this is the plot that is related to "An Inconvenient Mate." Gideon is the Breed suspected of going feral. He was driven mad by Brandenmore's experiments and has been tracking down Brandenmore's scientists, mutilating each one before he kills them. He is also trying to find three Breeds who escaped from the cages with him, one of whom infected him with her blood when she gave him a transfusion to save his life before leaving him behind. Gideon believes that her blood is the cause of his feral fever, and he's determined to punish her for what she did to him. (I'm thinking that the odds are pretty good that she will turn out to be his bond mate.) As the tension builds, both Gideon and the not-so-happy couple wind up on the Navajo Reservation shortly after the events depicted in "An Inconvenient Mate." At that point, a climactic scene resolves the mate-bond situation between Lawe and Diane, but leaves Gideon's task uncompleted.
Once again, this book is filled with editing errors. Sometimes I actually felt that paragraphs were in the wrong order or that sentences were missing. Other times, the narrative was so jumbled that I found myself going back to re-read a page or two so that I could understand exactly what just happened. In addition, the repetition of information drags down the narrative—and the action. I found myself paging past these scenes, anxious to get on with the action. For example, in one two-page segment of a lengthy internal monologue, Gideon feels the need to tell us three times that he has identified the traitor on Diane's team of mercenaries, including twice stating that he discovered the traitor's identity in the past 24 hours. I truly believe that the average reader understood this after reading it once.
Diane and Lawe are typical SMR protagonists. She is feisty and smart, demanding her independence and fighting against the protected life of a Breed mate, but relatively submissive in the bedroom. Lawe is an über-alpha, refusing to compromise his belief that Diane belongs back at Sanctuary away from the front lines. For awhile, she runs away and he follows, but eventually, they talk it out and come to a détente. The bedroom scenes don't begin until well into the story, but when they do, they're just as steamy and over the top as usual.
BREEDS 27 (novel): Stygian's Honor
Soul Mates: Stygian Black (Wolf) and Liza Johnson
This novel begins the culmination of a plot line that started several books ago. Here is the situation as this book begins: Twenty years ago, four people—two men and two young girls—escaped from Phillip Brandenmore's horrific Council laboratory. One of them—Gideon—was injured, and one of the girls shared her blood with him to save his life. When Gideon went feral, he blamed it on the girl's blood and has vowed to kill all three of his fellow escapees. More recently, the daughter of Jonas Wyatt (head of the Bureau of Breed Affairs) was injected with a deadly concoction developed by Brandenmore. Now that Brandenmore is dead, Jonas needs to find the four escapees because he believes that they have information that can save his daughter's life. At this point, three groups are looking for the escapees: Gideon, the Genetics Council thugs, and Jonas's Breeds. The escapees are being protected by the Navajo Nation, which, for decades, has been running a "witness protection" program for Council victims—either getting them back to their families or providing them with new identities. Jonas is sure that the Navajo leaders know where these people are, but they will not tell him the names of anyone in their database.
The book is set in Window Rock, New Mexico, where Jonas has moved temporarily to be close to the action and where he is becoming more and more frustrated with the Navajo leaders. He is sure that he is close to finding the escapees, but the Navajo won't cooperate or share information. In the meantime, more and more Genetics Council thugs are gathering in Window Rock, and they appear to have their sights set on the daughters of two of the Navajo leaders: Liza Johnson and her friend, Claire.
This book tells Liza's story as she comes to terms with her inner self and falls in love with a Wolf Breed—Stygian Black, who was created in the labs from a combination of DNA from Attila the Hun and a Haitian voodoo priestess. Stygian realizes almost immediately that Liza is his mate, but she has heard stories about the mating heat and is not willing to give up her independence. Their romance is fraught with the usual amount of high drama, graphic sex, and long, anguished interior monologues. By the end of the book, we learn the identities of both of the escaped women (although we guessed their identities several books ago), but the second woman's story is still to be told.
Like other recent books in this series, this one has many copy-proofing and continuity errors. Sometimes a character will ask a question, and another character will give an entirely unrelated answer. For example, at one point Liza asks, "Is Claire okay? Was she hurt?" Jonas answers, "She did." (p. 124) Huh? This kind of disconnect happens over and over again, forcing the reader to go back and reread paragraphs and conversations, desperately trying to make sense of it all. I hate to say it, but perhaps after 27 books, this series has gone on too long. The overworked mating-heat love scenes, which used to be mesmerizing in the early books, are now so mechanical and repetitious that I find myself paging quickly through them to get back to the action. The current plot line (i.e., Gideon and the escapees) is way too thin to have been spread over multiple books, and it still isn't completely resolved. So...we're in for more of the same in the next book, which will probably pair up Claire (aka Fawn) and Gideon.
Devil is the hard-hearted, fierce Breed enforcer whose job is to be an executioner—to go after Breeds marked to die. He has always believed that he would never find his mate, but when he first saw Katie back when she was sixteen, he never forgot her. Now, the two fall immediately into mating heat, and you know what happens next.
There are also appearances by Rule Breaker, who is masquerading as Graeme, the security expert on Lobo's compound. Cassie and Dash Sinclair also turn up in supporting roles.
This is a typical BREEDS romance, with plenty of sex and a side order of dramatic action, although the action part of the plot is rather light. If you're not familiar with the series, you might be confused by some of the references. Click HERE to read my review of all of the novellas in Enthralled, the anthology in which this story is included.
BREEDS 29 (novel): Rule Breaker
Soul Mates: Rule Breaker (Lion) and Gypsy Rum McQuade
To understand what's going on in this novel, you'll need to be familiar with at least the past two novels: Lawe's Justice (#26) and Stygian's Honor (#27). I am not going to summarize the action-plot lines in this review, but you can read my reviews of 26 and 27 (above) for an overview. Without providing any spoilers, I will just say that in Rule Breaker, most of those interconnected story threads are untangled and resolved.
But let's not worry too much about the action plot because in this series, it is always the romance that has center stage. This time around, the soul-mate lovers are über-alpha Rule Breaker (brother of Lawe Justice) and Gypsy McQuade, a 24-year-old human woman who hides her undercover spying activities behind a sexy-party-girl facade. As is almost always the case, our heroine had a horrific experience in her teen years that has emotionally scarred her forever. When Gypsy was 15, she sneaked out of the house to go to a party. When her beloved brother and loyal protector, Mark, followed her, both were captured by a vicious gang of Coyote Breeds. Mark was murdered as Gypsy was forced to watch, and she has blamed herself for Mark's death ever since—and so have her parents. Breed enforcers arrived in the nick of time to save Gypsy's life, and that was the moment that Rule Breaker first saw Gypsy, thus beginning an unspoken and unfulfilled attraction that has continued for the past nine years. Just a side note here: The given names in Gypsy's family are ludicrous: Her parents are Hansel and Greta; then we have Gypsy Rum and her sister, Kandy Sweet. Only Mark somehow got away with a normal name.
Rule has always vowed never to be trapped by the Mating Heat. At the very first sign, he plans to run away from his potential mate—as far and as fast as possible. When they were children, Rule and his brother were imprisoned in the Genetic Council's labs, where they were forced to witness "not just his mother's mate be dissected alive, but also his mother, because of the Mating Heat and the scientists' determination to view the effects of it on the living body." (p. 96) Rule believes that the only way to protect his own potential mate is to avoid the actual Mating process, which would bind them together forever. Although Rule is greatly attracted to Gypsy, neither one of them has the Mating Heat scent, so he believes that he is safe in starting a sexual relationship with her. Oh boy, is he ever wrong about that!
The love affair and the action plot intersect when Gypsy is suspected of being a spy for the Unknown, a mystical—and supposedly mythological—Navajo group. In this novel, there are so many different small groups working for, against, and alongside each other that if you aren't familiar with the origin of the various conflicts and the characters in each group, you'll be completely lost. I have read all of the books and I still got lost sometimes in the convolution of story lines.
On the good side, this is a great, if tortured, love story, with an emotionally scarred heroine, an all-too-arrogant hero, scum-bag parents, and lots of twists and turns near the end (although it's pretty easy to spot the traitorous villain). Everybody gets into the act by the time the epilogue rolls around so—once again—you will need to know who's who.
Rule is just as dominant in the bedroom as all the rest of Leigh's BREEDS heroes are, and Gypsy is just as submissive. This aspect of the series has always bothered me because no matter how intelligent and feisty the heroines are in the action scenes, they melt into little puddles of sexy submission the minute they hit the sheets. The story lines of the BREEDS romances are so familiar after 29 times around the block, that I was actually disheartened about what Leigh had to say about future books in a blog interview (2/5/14) on Literary Cravings: "I have about 35 additional titles and ideas listed in several different notebooks. Sometimes, it feels never-ending, but the ideas keep me excited and keep me writing as fast as my fingers can move across the keyboard to attempt to catch up with all the characters begging for their turn." Personally, even though I enjoyed the earlier books, I'm not looking forward to reading 35 more stories that follow basically the same romantic plot.
In that same interview, Leigh describes the next novel in the series: "Next is Gideon’s book, the Bengal that’s shadowed Jonas and his step-daughter Amber as Jonas has fought to save the child’s life. If you think Jonas is manipulating, I can’t wait until you see how manipulating Gideon can be. He’s sworn he’d kill the woman-child whose blood forced him to live and, in his mind, drove him insane. What he didn’t realize was that it was his Bengal driving him crazy. His mate was far too young to Mate, and the animal inside him knew it. It drove the human side of his psyche slightly crazy to ensure that the man kept the distance needed to keep the animal in check. Breeds are equal parts of human and animal. Always in conflict, fighting for dominance, until they come together once they find their mate and the solace they’ve sought for so long."
BREEDS 30 (novel): Bengal's Quest
Gideon and his brother Judd (aka Cullen) are original Breeds, genetically engineered with Bengal tiger DNA before conception. Their creator didn't realize that they were twins, so Gideon received all of the Breed power, while Judd's tiger remained dormant (and still does, but that's a story for a future book). Gideon is a scientific genius who survived the Council's agonizing experiments and went on to be trusted by his master (Dr. Foster) to work in the labs. When Gideon was 11 years old, he was given a dying four-day-old infant (Cat) and told to figure out a way to save her life through Breed experimentation. Gideon infused Cat with Bengal tiger DNA and put her through some extremely painful treatments to ensure that she lived. At that point, saving Cat's life was the only thing that kept Gideon sane. Twelve years later, Gideon escaped, planning to go back and rescue Judd and Cat. But during the escape he was shot and badly wounded. No one would tell Cat why her beloved Gideon suddenly disappeared from the labs, so she assumed that he had been killed by the Council, and she grieved for him.
Four months later, Judd and Cat managed to escape, and out of the blue, Gideon showed up to help them. But he was still badly wounded, so Cat insisted on infusing him with her blood. Gideon knew that this transfusion would set off his side of the Mate bond, and that Cat was still too young for Mating. So…he decided that his only course of action was to make her hate him so that she would stay away from him—at least until she is old enough to understand the whole Mating process. Cat was devastated when she heard the hateful words that Gideon screamed at her—that he never loved her and that she was just one of his experiments. Heartbroken, Cat went off with Judd, trying to hide from the Council's hunters who were hot on their trail.
Eventually, they met up with a group of Navajo mystics who transferred the spirit of a dying Navajo girl into Cat's body to protect her from being detected by the hunters. Since then, for the past 13 years, Cat has built up an emotional volcano of anger and hatred, despising Gideon for deserting her in her greatest moment of need. At this point, Gideon (in the guise of Graeme), approaches Cat to get their Mating process started, only to find that although Cat might succumb to his Mate lust, she vows never to trust him and refuses to give up her resentment and rage over the way he has treated her in the past. Whew! I left out a few details, but that's the basic story, which Leigh repeats in bits and pieces throughout this novel. At the very end, Leigh retells the lovers' whole story from beginning to end, adding in some previously unknown details, including facts about Cat's original genetic heritage and how she got to the labs in the first place.
The love story is the heart of the plot, with Cat and Gideon/Graeme alternately hurling invectives at one another and then drowning themselves in lusty thoughts (although their first bedroom scene doesn't come until quite late in the book). The Raymond Martinez story line (which began several books ago) gets resolved in this book after he tries to sell Cat to the Genetics Council. Then there is the resolution of the story of Honor/Liza, who also received the spirit of a dying Navajo girl. (Her love story is told in BREEDS 27, Stygian's Honor.) Simmering in the background is the long-standing enmity between Gideon and Jonas Wyatt, the arrogant and manipulative Breeds Director (whose love story is told in BREEDS 21, Lion's Heat).
Although I enjoyed this book more than the last few, there were (once again) many problems with the narration. Too many lengthy, unpunctuated sentences began with one idea and then meandered around and ended with another, forcing me to re-examine them for their true meanings—often a futile task. Another problem is that Leigh keeps repeating the "historical" details of Cat's life. Time and time again, Leigh revisits the blood transfusion scene, Gideon's "I never loved you" rant, the heartbreaking stolen-teddy-bear incident, and Cat's painful lab treatments. And don't forget, many of these events were covered in some of the earlier books as well.
The aspect of this book that bothers me the most is Leigh's final step in the resolution of the Cat-Gideon romance, in which Cat has a major epiphany and then essentially brushes away 13 years of Gideon's abominable, evasive behavior and goes cheerfully off with him to their HEA. In fact, she even blames herself for Gideon's problems. This scene comes across as a belittlement of Cat's fully justified emotional trauma—a suggestion that the subservient female should have just trusted the big, bad alpha male to do what was best for her and should not have gotten all hysterical and angry at him for abandoning, belittling, disparaging, and demeaning her. At one point, she compares her bitterness to "a corrosive eating through her soul." Remember, the major focus of this entire book is on Cat's horrific emotional state, but then in one brief moment, it's like "Never mind." Not only is this scene perplexing, it is also insulting to Cat, and, by implication, to women in general.
And one last nitpick: When 12-year-old Cat was transformed into the Navajo girl, Claire, she had plastic surgery in order to change her appearance to match the real Claire. But late in the book (under circumstances I can't describe for spoiler reasons), someone tells Cat that she looks exactly like one of her true biological relatives. These two details don't jibe; in fact, they are contradictory.
Leigh hints at several new romances, so I'm guessing that the series is not yet at an end. In particular, Gideon's brother, Cullen, has to find his true Mate so that he can unleash his tiger, and Khileen (Khi) Langer has to decide which of the two wolfy Reever brothers she is going to choose. And then there are the winged Breeds, who have just discovered a female of their species. Who will mate with her? Will it be Cat's friend, Keenan?
If you are a die-hard BREEDS fan, you won't want to miss this novel after watching the Gideon-Cat story play out through so many previous books. Click HERE to read the Prologue and Chapter 1, which include a flashback retelling of Cat and Judd's escape from the labs and an introduction to Cat's current circumstances.