Coveted
by Shawntelle Madison
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG) ISBN 978-0345529183
****
New author Shawntelle Madison offers readers a memorable heroine in Coveted, the first in a series about a female werewolf with psychological issues. Specifically, she's been kicked out of her pack, partly because she's...a hoarder.

Natalya Stravinsky has moved home to South Toms River, New Jersey, where her werewolf family isn't exactly welcoming her. Five years earlier, Nat had a hot affair with Thorn, son of the alpha werewolf of the South Toms River pack. Thorn left to go west, promising Nat that they'd work out a long-distance relationship. She didn't hear from him again, and heartbroken, developed an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Natalya collects holiday trinkets, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. Her house is filled with hundreds of them, still in their unopened boxes.

During the day, Nat works selling antiques to other paranormal types in town. Her life feels like it's spiraling out of control, and when word arrives that the Long Island werewolf pack is planning to take over the South Toms River territory, Thorn re-enters the picture. The attraction between them is still there. Then Nat's best friend Aggie, a high-ranking alpha female from a New York pack, arrives for an extended visit.

Aggie has her own issues: she's a compulsive eater. Nat decides to tackle her hoarding and joins a psych support group, which includes a white wizard named Nick who has similar issues. As their initial friendship deepens, Nat finds herself between two attractive men. Both want to protect her, especially when it seem the Long Island pack has Nat in their crosshairs.

Coveted is definitely a story that focuses on the growth of the heroine. Natalya has a lot of baggage, exacerbated by her banishment from the pack. Her submissiveness may grate on some readers, but I got used to it. Over the course of the novel, Nat makes strides in conquering her demons, and while she ends up far from perfect, the growth is definitely there. I was rooting for her and can't wait to continue her journey in the next book, Kept.

Readers looking for a hot romance should look elsewhere. There are romance elements, but Thorn is ill-defined, a rather cardboard hottie. I was never quite sure why he abandoned Nat five years earlier, and frankly, I hope Nat ends up with Nick. The romance triangle is loose and almost a subplot, which makes this book closer to a paranormal thriller. The cover blurb led me to believe it would be more of a paranormal romance, but it didn't deliver. Caveat emptor, romance readers.

The ending is a treat, as Natalya finds support from unexpected sources and inner strength she doesn't know she possesses. Cpveted is a strong debut for Shawntelle Madison with a fresh take on paranormal heroines, and this looks to be a promising series.

--Cathy Sova


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