Title: The Magical Christmas Cat
Authors: Lora Leigh, Nalini Singh, Linda Winstead Jones and Erin McCarthy
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Stand Alone/ Series: It can be read as a stand alone but at least two of the stories (Nalini Singh’s and Lora Leigh’s are connected to their ongoing series Psy/Changeling and Breeds, respectively.)
Summary: New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh and top-selling authors Nalini Singh, Erin McCarthy, and Linda Winstead Jones have a special gift for readers this year: never-before published holiday stories featuring passionate romance, paranormal adventure, and a distinctly alluring feline touch. With four new stories—including one featuring Lora Leigh’s genetically altered Feline Breeds—this is a collection packed with more surprises than Christmas morning, and more chills than the snowiest winter night…
Why Did I Read The Book: We happened to get a review copy from the publishers but I was going to buy the book anyway as I am a NaliniSinghaholic and needed my fix until her next book is out.
Well, colour me surprised. I actually thought all 4 short stories in this anthology were enjoyable, some more than others. They are all set around Christmas time but there is hardly any mention of Christmas expect for some of the epilogues. They are therefore, not Christmas-y at all. In fact, I would say that rather than “Christmas”, the key word here should be “cat” : two of stories have heroes who are feline changelings; there is one where the cat is the villain and another where the cat is a witch’s familiar.
Stroke of Enticement by Nalini Singh
The story: Annie Kildaire is a human; a primary school teacher and most of her students are changelings. One day one of the kids picks up a fight and she has to call his uncle
Zach to come and talk to him as the boy will not explain the reasons behind the fight. Zach Quinn is a DarkRiver soldier and a ranger at the Yosemite park and as soon as he sees Annie he feels attracted and a few moments later it hits him square in the chest – she is his mate. That visceral feeling that everything is right and from then on he starts wooing Annie: asking her out, talking about their lives, meeting her family, introducing her to his own family and his pack (with cameos by Lucas and Sacha).
The development of their relationship is fast but it doesn’t feel rushed and as with any of Nalini Singh’s pairings it is heart-warming. Annie has had a sad, lonely childhood because she was involved in an accident and almost lost her leg. Furthermore, she has seen her parents’ relationship decaying into something sour and she is scared to death of being trapped in a loveless relationship. Zach is ever so patient and yet determined, as any of Nalini Singh’s heroes.
There is very little in this story, of what makes Nalini Singh’s series unique – the world building and the Psy-Changeling conflict; I sort of missed that interconnection between her romantic elements and her overall story but I understand that this is a really short story and to be honest, at this point in time, I am taking anything that will keep me going until the next full-length novel comes out.
Verdict: I love Nalini Singh’s love stories, and specially her male protagonists – the changelings that are so strong and yet so ready to die (and to kill) for their mates.
Rating: 7 Very good
Christmas Bree by Erin McCarthy
The Story: Bree Murphy is an empathic in a family of witches who has a very close relationship with her two sisters and a very close connection with the house she lives in which she inherited from her grandmother. She is a tarot reader who wears goth clothes and given her empathic gift ends up dating needy guys who take a lot and give back little.
When her younger sister who is just developing a gift for predicting the future foresees her getting together with an executive she thinks she is deluded. But destiny calls when successful lawyer Ian Carrington knocks at her door. Ian and Bree have met briefly once at a coffee shop one year ago and ever since then Ian has been having hot dreams with Bree which is driving him nuts specially because he usually goes for corporate women, does not believe in witchcraft and things Bree is the opposite of what he wants. Still, he jumps at the chance of meeting her again and getting her out of his system when one of his clients decides to make an offer on her house.
This is my first Erin McCarthy story and I was pleasantly surprised. The story that a nice feel to it , both Ian and Bree feel like real people falling in love and learning that they both have been dreaming about each other probably because they both day-dream about the same things: commitment, family, home. The cat here is her familiar who turns out to be working on his own to bring them together.
Verdict: cute, sweet love story with a real-life feel to it even though the heroine is a witch.
Rating: 7 Very Good.
Sweet Dreams by Linda Winstead Jones
The Story: Ruby is a baker who after the death of her Aunt Mildred , inherit their house in Holland Court, a friendly, perfect neighbourhood. As the story opens they are all at their annual Christmas Party and the secret santa exchanges have been made. One last anonymous present is left to be open though, and it is addressed to Ruby: a small jade statue of a cat.
She thinks the gift is beautiful but her neighbour, Zane Benedict, a quiet, sturdy professor of parapsychology recognises the statue for what it is : Il Gato Nero or Soul Collector , a cat-demon who awakens every 200 years or so to collect a soul and is only one soul away from becoming real with enough power to destroy the world. When Ruby is given the cat it means that she is the next soul to be collect and her chances of surviving are close to zero. Zane turns out to be a member of the Brotherhood of Madani, a sect who has been trying to kill the demon for centuries. Now he must find out who in the neighbourhood is working for the demon whilst at the same time, trying to protect Ruby, whom against his better judgement, he has developed feelings for. Meanwhile Ruby, unawares of what is going on, starts dreaming about the 8 previous women that were taken by the demon and is terrified when the statue starts following her around the house.
Talk about a misnomer, there is nothing sweet about this story and much less about the dreams the heroine has. There is very little romance here (a few kisses and the promise of a date when all is said and done) and a lot of horror – I was terrified as the statue moved around the house showing up at places it wasn’t supposed to be. I have no idea how this story made into a romance anthology but I am not complaining. I quite liked it and I was impressed with the fact that the writer did not try to pack some heated, fear-induced, last-chance-before-we-die sex in the mixture.
Verdict: Well done horror and suspense with a bit of romance.
Rating: 6 Good.
Christmas Heat by Lora Leigh
The Story: Haley McQuire, is a Librarian that overhears a conversation between a breed and two scientists linked to major pharmaceutical companies, interested in doing research about the breeds in what seems to be an ongoing storyline – there is just enough information here so I was not completely lost in the plot since this is my first story by Lora Leigh. Noble Chavin is a jaguar breed enforcer who has been friends with Haley for a year and knows deep inside she is his mate. He is terrified at the prospect of losing her when the villains try to kills when they learn she is a witness. He decides it is his job and his duty to protect her but the mating heat may get in the way.
To be honest, I have heard of the Breeds series by Lora Leigh but never read any of the books and was excited at the prospect of having a taste and leaning more about it. The Breeds are humans who have been genetically modified with the DNA of predators such as lions, and jaguars. There is a small introduction before the story starts that explains there is something called Mating Heat, which is the breed’s biggest secret – the fact that there is one mate for each breed that belongs exclusively to them and which causes a reaction that binds them emotionally and physically. Oh well, she lost me right there and then – specially when the Mating Heat is described as being their Achilles’ heels.
Contrary to what may look like since I am a major fan of C.L. Wilson’s Tairen Soul series, Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling and Kresley Cole’s IAD, I have a hard time accepting “Mated for Life” stories. The prospect of either the male or the female not having any choice or any saying in a relationship that is supposed to last forever doesn’t sit well with me. For me to actually buy it, it has to be firstly, well-written and believable and then have some mitigating circumstances. Like for example the fact that a mating bond will not come into place until the two accept it and that only happens when there is trust and love (CL Wilson’s and Nalini Singh’s are like that). Most of all, I don’t want the sex or the physical aspects of their relationship to be so binding as to be hurtful if they don’t have it and I certainly don’t want to read about a mating bong being the couple’s Achilles’ heels– again, I use the example of Nalini Singh’s mated couples who feel that finding their mates is the best thing that could ever happen to them – a gift that actually makes then stronger.
In Christmas Heat, Haley is interested in Nobel, finds him hot and has an emotional link to him but because she is human she doesn’t understand what the mating heat means and when he explains it to her –she has very little choice in the matter – I have no idea how she didn’t run as fast as she could: “when I kiss you the taste of that kiss is going to make you crazy for more. The hormone in the small glands beneath my tongue will be released into your system, and the mating hormone will begin to fill your senses. It’s like a drug for sex. It’s like a need that only one thing will ease, and that’s my semen pumping inside you. When that happens, a small, thumb-shaped extension will become erect from beneath the head of my cock. It will lock me inside you (…).”
Oh the horror, the horror. Is it me, or does this whole conversation sound ridiculous? I don’t know if in one of the full-length novels in the series, the love story or the mating heat are better developed and more palatable but in here, it all appeared to be an excuse for all the hot sex in the book. Which is a shame since I was able to appreciate the story up until that point and the epilogue was also very sweet.
Verdict: Well-established fans of Lora Leigh will probably like it – I am just not one of them and don’t think I will ever be.
Rating: 5 meh.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: from Nalini Singh’s of course! I loved the conversation between Zach and Annie’s mother. She is woman has overprotected her daughter because of her bad leg and who has been trying to fix her up with men that are more academicals than physical beings. This is one of the reasons why she has never wanted her daughter going near a changeling, because she is too, scared her daughter will suffer the same disillusion she has suffered with Annie’s father. But then she realises that there is no danger to Annie from Zach, that he would die to protect her and then she asks him to always look at her daughter like she is everything to him. And he just says, of course. Aww.
Additional Thoughts: Since we are talking about cats, have a look at this hilarious video that Katibabs posted last Saturday at her blog. Honestly, I was in hysterics watching it. It’s the Ninja Cat!
Later today: another review of another anthology: It Happened One Night with stories by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro and Candice Hern