I purchased my first Shelly Laurenston book, Pack Challenge in early 2007, after someone on a blog or board mentioned it as a good shifter story. Sadly, I didn’t read it for over a year because I always had another book I wanted to read more.
Once I got into the mood for a shifter story, I read “Pack Challenge” and immediately purchased the author’s available backlist. The Mane Squeeze is the most recent of her Pack/Pride series.
The P/P stories take place in modern-day USA, and the shifters are wolves, lions, tigers, bears (oh my!), wild dogs, jackals, hyenas (who seem be enemies of all the other shifters) and some witches. One story mentioned how a particular Pack became shifters, but I don’t really care about the hows and whys because these shifters are too much FUN.
They run restaurants, small towns, IT companies, serve as police and soldiers, cuss and ride motorcycles, and live in big cities as well as the small towns. They shop at grocery stores that sell zebra and gazelle, as well as at clothing stores that sell Gucci and Prada. They’re not out to save life as we know it from being destroyed by other supernatural creatures while hiding their true natures; they go about living their lives, with some politics and feuds mixed in, and they do it while hiding their true natures from most humans.
The Mane Squeeze focuses on Gwen O’Neill and Lachlan “Lock” MacRyrie. Gwen is a tigon, a result of her lioness mom’s relationship with a Chinese tiger. Lock is all bear, half Russian and half Scots. Gwen and Lock meet at the wedding of Jess and Smitty, a wild dog/wolf couple from a previous book. While Lock is working up the nerve to chat Gwen up, an enraged lion attacks Lock out of nowhere, ordering him to get away from his sister.
“Startled, Lock reacted the only way the bear in him knew how. With complete and utter violence.” Gwen’s “big-haired bastard” of a protector never knew what hit him. That amused me because in Romancelandia, heroes from previous books never take a beating in later books; at least not on a regular basis. These shifters get doses of their own medicine all the time and I enjoy it. A nervous Gwen manages to calm Lock down, explaining that the O’Neills have a reputation for causing fights to break out everywhere they go. Lock leaves the party, having convinced himself that Gwen would never be interested in a bear like him, and anyway, who needs the drama?
The next day Gwen and her best friend Blayne are attacked while hunting in a shifter park and rouse a sleeping Lock in an effort to fend off their attackers. This results in Gwen and Lock going over a cliff into the river below and losing consciousness. Gwen recovers first and interrupts Lock’s favorite dream of honey-covered salmon jumping into his mouth. Upon seeing the seriousness of Gwen’s injury, Lock is as determined to get her to the hospital as Gwen is to avoid the hospital.
Blayne reappears and manages to subdue Gwen and get her to a shifter ER. After Lock promises Gwen that he will stay by her side, Gwen’s half-brother’s half-brother (confused yet?) Brendon brings in the local sheriff, to force Lock out. Gwen is unhappy, believing that Lock ran out on her, and Lock is unhappy because he knows what Gwen is thinking.
Over the next few days, Gwen and Blayne commit to moving to NYC to take over Blayne’s dad’s business. Gwen’s family expects her to take over the O’Neill beauty salons and Gwen expects that they will be disappointed because while she is good cosmetology, she wants to do something else with her life. Brendon offers Gwen a suite temporarily in his hotel and Gwen is “persuaded” to accept.
Gwen begins working, and her job takes her back into Lock’s orbit. We are also treated to some old and new characters, an illegal fighting ring, some serious roller derby action, and some overprotective lions who keep finding themselves on the wrong side of a smitten bear, but the majority of the book is definitely spent watching Gwen and Lock deali with how they fit into each other’s lives and within their own family groups.
Gwen is a hybrid in a society that doesn’t always accept them. Since she’s not fully lion, she will never be considered a member of the O’Neill Pride, and she has no contact with her father. Her support system has been Blayne who is a wild dog/wolf hybrid whose father chose his daughter over his Pack. Gwen’s half-brother Mitch has failed to recognize Gwen’s lack of status in the Pride, and her mother Roxy’s past self-indulgence is the catalyst for the recent attacks on Gwen, a continuation of the abuse she suffered as a teenager for being half-lion. Gwen prides herself on being tough and feminine, able to kick ass and not chip her nail polish in the process.
Lock’s upbringing was the exact opposite of Gwen’s; his parents are still married and his sister is happily married with children. Born into a family of high achievers, Lock feels slightly out of step because he doesn’t want to be a doctor or a college professor. He’s done a stint in the US military’s shifter Unit and is designing software until he has enough money to pursue his true dream.
Since Lock doesn’t consider it as ‘important’ as anything his family has already accomplished, he has a hard time recognizing and accepting his true genius. Lock and Gwen are very cute together, and very good together, and I had a very happy feeling when I was done reading the book, and have re-read it whole and in part at least five times since then. I love this series. That is all. Grade A.
The Mane Squeeze by Shelly Laurenston, published by BRAVA is available in ebook and paperback at your favorite retailer. The next book in the Pride series is Beast Behaving Badly, due out June 2010.