Book Review: Bears Behaving Badly by MaryJanice Davidson
It’s been a while since I read anything by MJD - I think I read the first three or four in her Queen Betsy series about the accidental queen of the vampires - but I do recall enjoying her fun, lighthearted style. So when this first in a new series about the employees of a government agency protecting vulnerable shifter kids popped up for review, I picked it up for a try.
One of the things I liked best about the Queen Betsy series was the way the reader got to figure out how the vampire world worked right alongside Betsy. That doesn’t happen here and it’s a problem, because we get thrown into Annette’s world with no real introduction. She already knows almost all the principal characters, from her love interest (who she’s known two years and done nothing about their mutual attraction) to one of the two kids they have to protect. She knows all this stuff about them and we don’t, and to be honest she’s not a great narrator because she comes across extremely ADHD. She doesn’t focus on anything for more than five minutes and the constant jumps in train of thought mean the reader never gets more than a snippet or two of useful information before Annette’s off like a butterfly to the next subject which crosses her mind. Usually something to do with food.
There are some really weird bits in this book too which breach some standard conventions of fiction, like the following (copied precisely for format):
‘His monthly clothing budget was larger than her car payment. This clearly
“I’ve worn this shirt once. Once!”
wounded him deeply.’
It conveys Annette’s permanently-distracted air perfectly, but it reads super weird and it really pulled me out of the story. And it wasn’t always just used for her point of view either; I saw the exact same thing in David’s multiple times, which I think was a mistake. If it was just in Annette’s, it would have distinguished her PoV. Used for other people, it just made the writing look unedited.
Now, all this might sound like I hated the book, but I really didn’t. There were characters here I loved, like Nadia, the very British, uber-competent were-raptor, and Pat, Annette’s gender-fluid roomie, and Dev, the juvenile delinquent were-fox. They were all fabulous and I wanted Nadia especially to get her own story. The plot, once I finally worked out what was going on, was both righteous and a little tragic (and needs trigger warnings for child abuse), There’s just one sex scene, right at the end of the book, which is very hot and was pretty unexpected having got that far into it with nothing more than some heavy petting.
I’m kind of undecided about what rating to give here. There were elements I liked so much, but I actually found this really hard to read because the writing style just made it impossible for me to focus, and I do think that for the start of a series, we needed a bit more exposition before being thrown in at the deep end and having to figure out stacks of things the protagonist already knew but was too distracted to tell us. I’m giving it three stars… and as much as I enjoyed certain characters, I probably won’t be picking up book 2.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.