Jill Shalvis has incredible writing strengths which make her one of my favorite contemporary romance authors. She writes strong, damaged heroes, sexy heroines often as funny as they are beautiful, and always gives us a strong sense of place, usually a terrific small town where everyone is in each other’s business. After reading her Lucky Harbor series this summer, I went on a MAJOR Jill Shalvis binge (Don’t believe me? Take a look at my Goodreads account), digging up her other series and Harlequin single titles to devour. One of the best series in her ouvre is, without question, the Animal Magnetism series.
“Come for the cover, stay for the writing” could be tagline of this group of terrific romance novels. Every cover has a hot, bare-chested man and/or an adorable animal – how many women could resist that? But this series offers readers plenty of content between the covers, never fear.
After ex-military men forming a security company, the next best series trope in romance is a sibling group. Sometimes they are related by blood and sometimes they are fostered siblings, but the bond between adults who grew up in rough circumstances, economic or emotional, cannot be broken. It also lays a good foundation for the pending romantic attachment; even the most damaged hero or heroine stands a chance at love if they can have a relationship with a sibling.
In the Animal Magnetism series, we have three foster brothers, Adam, Dell and Brady, living in a small town called Sunshine in the Bitterroot Mountains area of Idaho. All of them had troubled childhoods before being placed with the same caring rancher who offered them the stable home and firm discipline they’d been lacking. While they’ve gone away, they eventually return to Sunshine, a few of them putting down more roots than others.
In the first book, Animal Magnetism, Brady has finally returned to Sunshine to visit his brothers, Dell and Adam. Dell owns the veterinary clinic in town and splits his time between lavishing love and attention on needy animals and doing the same with the female population of Idaho. Adam, who served a stint in the National Guard, returned home after a terrible mission in which half his team was lost. He’s wrestled in stoic silence with the PTSD from that event but has channeled his talents into a successful dog training venture specializing in Search & Rescue. Brady was Special Forces, with his talent being flying helicopters into highly dangerous situations, but he’s back to being a civilian and has taken some time off from the company that sends him all over the world to fly at a moment’s notice.
When Brady’s parked car gets rear-ended by a flustered young woman, he’s more interested in her big eyes and the way her utilitarian Carhart pants pull across her lovely bottom. The fact that she’s got a potbellied pig, a duck and two puppies in her truck is an intriguing element in the mix. Lilah Young can’t get over how a bad a day she’s having. Her kennel business is paying the bills, but she’s been staying up studying for her online classes and she just paid the price when she plowed into the truck belonging to the total hottie visiting town. His truck seemed to have little damage but hers is the worse for wear and it’s not like she has the money to fix it. Brady is kind enough to drive her home to her cabin next to the kennels so she can give him her insurance information and she impulsively kisses him, thinking she’ll never see him again. Imagine her surprise when she finds him in Dell’s veterinary clinic and Adam introduces Brady as the other foster brother she’d never met.
Brady is just as surprised to see this compelling woman joking with his two brothers, who clearly consider her part of the family. When his brothers bribe him with the tempting offer of rehabbing a sweet helicopter so they can use it for their business, it’s the vision of Lilah as much as spending time with them and the bird that has him agreeing to stay a month. Although he’s made it clear that anything between them is temporary, Lilah decides to seize life with both hands and let this fling with Brady evolve to what it will be. Brady finds himself addicted to Lilah, seeing the way she cares for everyone and everything, all the while maintaining her independence. As the days tick by, he’s unsure he’ll be able to let her go and maintain his personal policy of not getting involved.
Of the three books in the series, the first is my favorite, largely due to Lilah. This is the woman you want as your best friend – she’s open, funny, and honestly acknowledges her feelings (at least to herself). Watching her fall for every animal in her care and weep bitter tears when she gives them away to a good home because she knows it’s what best for them, gives you a clear sense of how she’s going to approach a relationship. Brady is smoking hot, but he’s also got a heart that instantly recognizes Lilah is something special. Seeing him reveal his playful side and his emotions to Lilah is one of the most heartwarming parts of this book. Setting the stage for all three volumes in this series, the secondary characters of the animals are nothing short of fabulous – little did I realize I would be so captivated by the antics of a duck and a lamb!
In Animal Attraction, we get insight into the fact that there’s more between Dell and his gorgeous redhead receptionist, Jade, than meets the eye. She’s the one woman whose never fallen at his feet, but over the last eighteen months of her running his office with incredible efficiency, she has managed to become an intrinsic part of the family he, Adam, and Brady have created. Her announcement that she’s returning to Chicago in a month has Dell a little panicky, particularly after they share an unexpected kiss in his truck that puts Fourth of July fireworks to shame.
When Dell sees Jade frightened out of her cool exterior by a kid in a Halloween mask, and PTSD surface, he and Adam realize something horrible has happened to her in her past. Helping her is a given, and he convinces her that she’ll feel more in control if she begins to learn self-defense. She agrees to do it, dedicating herself to wrestling control of her life back into her own hands. Being regularly in Dell’s arms doesn’t hurt anything and as they draw closer, she’s worried she can’t keep her feelings at bay. But Dell is a playboy who doesn’t let any woman in, ever, so how can she take a chance on him?
Dell is a fabulous character – warm and charming, he nevertheless has a ton of intelligence and deep feelings, with Shalvis drawing him so three-dimensionally you’d believe it if he walked off the page. Jade is frustrating in her self-containment but since we have insight as to why she is that way (and what she is afraid of) she’s simultaneously incredibly sympathetic. The real joy in this novel is watching Dell and Jade reveal the innermost parts of themselves to each other, because you know that these two private people are not in the habit of letting anyone in to their emotions or past. Some of the final scenes in Chicago had me cheering, and it wasn’t due to the s’mores that Jade was making!
It was hard not to wait with an impatient toe tapping for the third book in the series since you knew it was going to focus on the silent Adam and the rich, blond who seemed to drive him crazy, Holly. I was disconcerted to find out two pieces of information that I didn’t know from the previous books: 1) that Adam and Holly had been secretly together when they were teenagers and that 2) everyone believed Holly to be married the whole time she was storming in and out of Adam’s life with her rancher father’s golden retriever puppies.
That information definitely set the stage for the story. Holly and Adam are two of the most frustrating hero/heroines you’ve ever rooted to get together. Stubborn and remote are adjectives that can apply to both of them, in spades. When the story opens, Adam is coming off a rough and search and rescue, his rambunctious yellow lab, Milo, in tow and thinking about how he just wants a hot shower and to sleep for a couple of days. The last thing he expects to be confronted with is a scared married bombshell by the name of Holly, worried that her aging father is not answering his phone after three days of camping by himself. The only person she trusts to track him is Adam, who finds himself moved by Holly’s transparent fear.
She insists on coming with him and, with just the two of them and Milo looking in her father’s favorite haunts, layers get stripped off Adam and Holly (and I don’t just mean their clothes) as they find out truths about their respective pasts. To say that Adam is emotionally remote is almost British in its understatement, and I sided with Holly that she should be frustrated that every pushy male in her life – her father, her brother and Adam – all had made decisions for “her” benefit without every consulting her. Argghh!
Holly is almost always angry and indignant, mostly as a shield against Adam, for whom she has never stopped having feelings. It exhausted me listening to her internal conflict as she realizes she still has feelings (physical and emotional) for Adam and determines not to succumb to them. Adam is equally as strangle-eligible as Holly is the one woman who really lights his fire – the only one he ever has loved – yet he is so convinced of his inability to love anyone that he offers her no encouragement. It felt like it took two-thirds of the book for these two to work through the initial bulk of their feelings in order to reach a point where they would entertain the thought that there could be a chance things would work.
Thank heavens for our previous characters and for the dogs, Adam’s Search & Rescue dog, Milo, especially (although Holly’s father fosters S&R puppies and Thing 1 and Thing 2 are pretty terrific). The presence of the two very happy couples of Brady/Lilah and Dell/Jade, who knew that Adam and Holly were meant to be together, kept me from committing character homicide a couple of times. I can’t say that I got totally into this book like I did the first two, but I was happy to see them work through their issues. You can’t argue that once Adam is in, he’s in. Nothing halfway for Adam! Part of my reluctance to embrace them is a personal prejudice I have – I’m just not a fan of the rekindled or second chance romance.
I did love the introduction of Holly’s brother, Grif, who regularly skyped her from his military post, as well as Holly’s grade-school teacher (and socially awkward) best friend. The next book in the series, entitled Rumor Has It, will focus on this unlikely pairing and I’m already looking forward to August 2013 because of it. Jill Shalvis is a terrific author with characterization and a talent for creating a small-town setting that has you calling a mover, you are so in love with the place. Try the Animal Magnetism series and enjoy both her two and four-legged characters in these terrific romances!