DNF Sample: Beast Behaving Badly by Shelly Laurenston

November 4, 2013 Reviews, Urban Fantasy 18 DNF

A lightly tanned blonde man with shaggy hair stares out while a women with her back to the viewer claws his chest. During our conversation on Paranormal as the new Savage, Robin suggested I try Shelly Laurenston. I downloaded a sample of Beast Behaving Badly but found myself unable to commit. Whatever switch her books flip for people is one not found in my circuit panel. Rather than changing my mind about PNR’s place in the genre, Beast Behaving Badly reinforced it. Our first scene finds the hero engaged in a brutal fight. (He’s a hockey player. I don’t speak hockey so we will assume blood spatter is a good thing and move forward.) The heroine immediately treats us to her thoughts on the hero’s ethnic heritage.

“Of course, his saving grace had been that he wasn’t one of the more feared— and, to be quite honest, more unstable— canine hybrids like Blayne, but a rare by-product of species crossbreeding. Specifically a polar bear– lion. Or, as Blayne always secretly thought of him, a mighty bear-cat. A much cuter name in Blayne’s estimation than polar bear– lion. But bears breeding with felines was such a rare thing— and damn near nonexistent more than twenty-five years ago— that they didn’t have any cute nicknames like coydogs for coyote-dogs or ligers and tigons for lion and tiger mixes.” – Laurenston, Shelly. Beast Behaving Badly (The Pride Series) (Kindle Locations 66-70). Kensington. Kindle Edition.

Well then. There follows a dizzying assessment of ethnicities as each character is defined by how much of what heritage they hold. In the SR this would have been depicted as quadroon, mulatto, half breed and such. Here characters are Liger or Polar Cub. Humans are still apparently present but inferior. Our heroine’s father is described as such a sports fan that he’s willing to watch full humans play games. Is this the equivalent of college ball or Little League? It’s not immediately clear. What we do learn is that humans are weak. Bears and Foxes are dominant. Hyenas make good agents. Blood sports are the best sports. (Our heroine disagrees with that last point, but she’s kind of an idiot.) 

A secondary female character is introduced and shunned for her desire to catch a profitable match. This tiering of “good” women and “bad” women continues with the inference that hockey players must fend off an endless sea of women hoping to breed (yes, breed) a dynasty. Pressure is placed on the heroine to date the hero for prestige and to punish the bad female character. (Did I mention the heroine is an idiot?) I can’t say the hero is a particularly deep thinker what with giving up millions so he can play for a team because a woman he saw once (ten years ago) is having dinner. Some people would walk up and introduce themselves. He signs a contract in case it leads to eventually finding out her name. Then he does nothing to further his goal except show up to work. But back to the heroine.

Ten years ago the guy looked at her and she decided (based on his glance) that he was a predatory serial killer. She ran screaming from the ice rink and barricaded herself inside her home. (Wait. I changed my mind. The hero is dumber.) Fast forward a decade and she still thinks he’s a killer because of his violence on the rink and her fascination with serial killers in general. (Karen Robards fan?) She hides in a bathroom while he asks to speak with her. Seconds later he’s ripping the door off the hinges. Her response is that a) she won’t pay for the door and b) won’t let him take her to a secondary location and c) forgot she had a cell phone in her pocket to call 911 but d) isn’t dead so maybe he’s not a serial killer after all. Like I said, she’s a rocket scientist.

Fast forward to the obligatory home scenes where we discover our viciously angry sports hero is really just a shy introvert with a gender bias who dislikes company. He surrounds himself with take them or leave them friends. He’s a big ol’ Polar Cat on the inside. (Awwww. Get your furry on, kids! Throw in a sad backstory and… What’s that Lassie? He has one? Good dog!) Meanwhile our heroine is treated to the shock and awe of  her nearest and dearest at the revelation she might know this gladiator of the rink. Despite her protestations that he’s the antithesis of everything she values savvy readers know she’s all talk. She’ll be his latest buckle bunny before you can say Giddy Up!

Laurenston reminded me strongly of Jayne Ann Krentz in her early PNR days with a side of splatter-gore. Nothing in the Kindle sample urged me to read further. Everything begged me to stop.

Final Assessment – I’m sure it’s awesome if you like that sort of thing. DNF

Source – Kindle Sample

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Meoskop

Meoskop's first non-compulsory book review was in 1973. Although a hit with the 3rd grade, concerns raised by the administration necessitated an extended hiatus. Reviews resumed in 1985 but the concerns are ongoing.

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18 Responses to “DNF Sample: Beast Behaving Badly by Shelly Laurenston”

  1. Roslyn Holcomb

    Laurenston isn’t my flavor either, except for one book, Hunting Season, which is awesome. Unfortunately, it’s the one series of hers she has chosen not to continue. It’s a gift, if I like it it’s guaranteed to be canceled.

  2. Ridley

    I read the book before this one and it was off the walls bonkers from start to finish.

    The one thing I’ll give it, though, is that it captured urban culture really well. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the fights reminded me of growing up in a working-class city and the way people used to get up in each other’s faces and throw down. I doubt I’d read another in this series, but I did kind of like the no fucks given approach, especially with the female characters.

  3. nu

    The heritage breakdown sounds pretty tedious, but I wouldn’t compare it to the offensiveness of an author breaking down how Black a character is by drop.

  4. meoskop

    @nu: You might want to follow the first link above for context on why that was relevant and a fair comparison.

  5. meoskop

    @Roslyn Holcomb: That’s my secret television superpower. If you like a show it’s best to hope I don’t tune in because it’s instantly gone. Maximum Bob, Flash Forward, Apt 23, Firefly, I’m just naturally gifted in television termination. It’s a surprise when something I like finishes a full season. I think Mad Men stayed on the air because I didn’t show up until S3.

    @Ridley: Super good point, actually. Although I wanted the sample to hurry up and end the class aspect was solid. The female BFF was especially well drawn from that perspective.

  6. Penelope

    Oh God. I think the heroine in this book is the most irritating and unlikable heroine I have EVER read. Also, I figured out that SL’s humor is basically Animal House (no pun intended) with every character, regardless of age, sex, or hybrid status. The complexity of the shifter politics is ridiculous and almost impossible to fathom.

    The one thing I did like, however, was that the concept of “mixed” race–in terms of hybrid species–was pretty well covered, and I thought it was believable and added a lot to her stories. But I don’t blame you for DNFing this one. It was painful to finish, and the other ones I’ve read are more or less the same.

  7. Tina

    I love Shelly Laurenston’s series. Her brand of crazy just works for me. One thing about the whole racial breakdown in the series which may not really be evident in just reading this book is that.

    a) she tries to give her shifters the qualities that their animals are supposed to have in the wild, so the male lion shifters have personality traits that mimic an actual male lion, are enemies of the hyena etc.

    and

    b) there is a subplot running throughout the series about racial purity. Where some members of the shifter community only consider pure-bloods worthwhile and finds the mixed breeds inferior. Some families do not accept the offspring of a mixed breed pairing. Kids are abandoned and/or run away and become prey for a human run outfit that uses them for sport.

    So the whole thing about the mixed breeds has a larger place in the overall plot structure.

    and Yes, Ros, her Hunting Season book needs a sequel right now.

  8. nu

    @meoskop: Well, I’m not sure that I agree paranormal romance evolved entirely from a need to Other. I think that conclusion draws from a lack of interest in the genre because the genre itself didn’t really flourish until women like Nalini Singh and JR Ward added an element of world-building, i.e. fantasy, thereby marrying two loved genres, fantasy and modern romance. Urban fantasy adds mystery, another big audience. In fact, it was floundering before these authors -and authors inspired by them- emerged, the nearest thing romance with a “pinch of magic.” Or maybe it was just the layers and depth that did it.

    I think the alpha male in paranormal romance arguably derived from a rape fantasy -or whatever human or societal forces attract women to that quality- as much as the next alpha male love interest, and owing to sexualized stereotypes of men of color, of which authors of color are aware, they’re less likely to perpetuate that domineering, simplified alpha male; they’re more likely to write heroines of color than heroes. For non-POC authors and readers, I can see the Othering hypothesis. But Laurenston isn’t unintentionally perpetuating a narrative of Othering, as this suggests, so are you saying she’s co-opting that to say something more useful?

    That brings me to my point. My disagreement with the review was the comparison between the imaginary subjugation of imaginary species and real world racism. I know that you didn’t come up with the idea, and other authors have tried this tack. I used to see its merit. Now I think it’s just a cop-out for authors who try to inspire sympathy for “marginalized” protagonists while continuing to write all-white casts and thereby perpetuate _real_ racism. Now maybe Laurenston doesn’t do this. Maybe her dynamics are more nuanced. They probably are, considering she’s not writing from an outsider’s perspective. But I just would like to see other authors drop this theme because they don’t seem to appreciate it fully. It seems like a lot of lip service while their actions speak louder.

  9. Meoskop

    @nu: Well, I disagree with your premise that paranormal flounders prior to the arrival of Singh and Ward, or that their world building approach was not being deployed by other authors, while Krentz and Lowell’s books didn’t entice them to abandon their mainstream genre books others were writing wolves, vampirs, angels and the like. I participated in a number of 90’s conversations of Is It Romance? as publishers labled books sci fi or romance and readers agreed, or not.

    I’ve no opinion on what Laurenston does or does not do with her use of ethnicty in her books, because my experience with her writing is limited to one sample I didn’t engage with. And I don’t know if I agree or disagree with the sweeping statement about what authors of color would or would not write. I illustrated the obsession with who was mixed and who was not in the sample because it was suggested to me as a refutation of my feeling that whatever reading needs were met by the SR is now being met by the PNR. I also hesitate to grab that theory because in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the heavy consumers of SR in my life were not white women. So my understanding of what drove that market is going to be imperfect. Certainly for some readers it was othering, but thst doesn’t encompass the breadth of the readership.

    I admit to being somewhat confused as to your point. In your last paragraph you appear to be arguing that the use of PNR or other authorial choices to preclude the inclusion of non white characters should end. I agree. But in the preceeding two you object to the parallel between the explicit detailing of ethnicity found in a mid 1970’s plantstion novel and that of a current paranormal. My argument being that they are very related, and that in order to attract a white cross over audience the non white character requires the othering brush doesn’t conflict with your final point. So is your objection that I draw this line of connection at all?

  10. Meoskop

    @Roslyn Holcomb: Please don’t eat at my hang outs – I have fairly good luck with food. We’re just (sniff) too good for this TV world.

    @Tina: Your B point is interesting but while I have my share of quirky obsessions I don’t see her becoming one. Do you think she’s going somewhere with the racial purity aspect? Does it add to the world? Frankly the hyenas / agent thing bothered me because I have often have heard jewish / hyena and of course jewish / agent is a thing. So a throwaway line about hyenas making the best agents in a stand alone book sat wrong. I am interested in how readers experience her use of this theme but not enough to go study the books. Too many books I want to read for other reasons in front of that project!

  11. Tina

    @Meoskop:
    I don’t necessarily know if she is going anywhere but I do think it is a somewhat blatant commentary on othering.

    Laurenston is about the only PNR author that I can think of outside of SIngh who routinely and widely populates her series with non-white characters so that her world is very mutlticultural. I think She’s actually had more non-white heroines that she’s had white heroines. Admittedly this is a strong reason why I have gravitated to her. That and her bent sense of humor and, as Ridley puts it, the ‘no fucks to give’ attitude of most of her heroines.

    On the human incarnation of her shifters interracial pairings and biracial children are no issue. Nobody blinks or looks sideways a Hillbilly character like Bobby Lee marrying a black woman Jessie. In that sense they are post-racial. But she allows any unease to filter into the animal side.

    In previous books it is shown that heroine in this book, Blayne, and her best friend Gwen became besties in no large part because they bonded over the persecution and bullying they’ve had to face and overcome all their lives because of their mixed species. As humans Blayne is black and Gwen is Asian, but no mention is ever made about what racial bias they may have had to face because of that. There is even a scene where Blayne and Gwen are alone and are targeted by a group of shifter males who make threats and hurl “racial” epithets at the women.

    So the subplot about mixed species and the conversations that she has her characters have on that level sound very familiar. Like the ones that gay some teens have when they have been kicked out of the house after coming out to their parents. Or many biracial people have about having to choose or not feeling completely in place in one or the other. And the shit they have to put up with by people who can’t deal because they are different.

    In her series of course she ramps it up with drama by making them targets and having a shifter black ops agency investigate blah blah blah. But in a sense that is also part of the commentary. One the one hand the shifter community can look down on the normal humans and perceive them as weak. But on the other hand, the shifters have to hold a mirror up to themselves and ask why is it that they will turn their backs on young mixed breeds just because they are mixed and allow them to become prey of the so-called weak humans? Humans, even at their worst, at least one side will accept a biracial child.

    And finally, I have to admit the Hyena thing went over my head. I had never heard of the jews/agents thing so that comparison never would have resonated with me. My only exposure to the personality habits of hyenas came from The Lion King.

  12. Meoskop

    @Tina – the hyena thing is pretty common in supremacy circles & far right bigotry – heard it a million times growing up. I might (or not) have felt differently about her use of shifter ethnicity in the sample if that perceived slur hadn’t been so upfront. True story – I’ve never made it all the way through The Lion King. It’s my inlaws favorite but it bored me silly.

    Thanks for explaining how she uses the animal breakdowns to discuss othering. Again, based on a sample I don’t feel qualified to weigh in overall but it makes me want to (in that mythical free time future) explore it more. Maybe I’ll get lucky and someone will write a paper! Without the zany. I have a low zany threshold.

  13. nu

    @Meoskop: “But in the preceeding two you object to the parallel between the explicit detailing of ethnicity found in a mid 1970′s plantstion novel and that of a current paranormal. My argument being that they are very related, and that in order to attract a white cross over audience the non white character requires the othering brush doesn’t conflict with your final point. So is your objection that I draw this line of connection at all?”

    Yes, I disagree that Othering real world ethnicities and races in older romances is comparable to the fictional marginalization of white heroes and heroines in white-white romance -when a heroine describes a hero in lusty detail, she’s not talking about a werewolf or vampire, she’s describing his green eyes, etc.- since there are very few heroes of color in paranormal romance. So yes, unless I’m misunderstanding what a plantation novel is or what you were trying to say.

  14. Meoskop

    @nu – this blog fairly frequently reviews plantation novels http://cadsnwhores.blogspot.com I don’t know if there is a tag for easier searching. A common theme of the SR was that the hero (or heroine) looked white but had another “bloodline” which made them other, or more than white, and therefore subject to persecution. The character then had the opportunity to be superior and “better” than people without this racial make up. There would also occasionally be a pairing of a very black man with a plantation daughter.

    As reader shaming increased and tastes changed, a lot of these same elements translated over into a rise in American West stories featuring Native Americans as violent “savages” with the (often half white) “good” character pairing up with the white heroine. She, like her predecessors, then had the opportunity to be the Good White Person who set aside cultural bias for love,

    My POV is that paranormal, with it’s focus on the misunderstood hero / heroine who is other than human via a percentage of bloodline is mirroring the paths these previous segments of the genre took. This is not a judgement on PNR. Elements of those earlier “white but not” characters exist today in vampire / tiger form.

  15. nu

    @Meoskop: Well, in that case, I can see what you mean. I guess you can compare that heroine to the misunderstood vampire, etc., although humans play little role in some PNR. Thanks for explaining!

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