Black Magic Reviews

4-Star Review: MOONLIGHT by Ines Johnson (Moonkind #2)


moonlightTitle:
 MOONLIGHT
Author: Ines Johnson
Series: Moonkind (Moonkind #2)
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Heartspell Media, LLC
Publication Date: January 10th, 2017
Rating: fullstar_smallfullstar_smallfullstar_smallfullstar_smallnostar_small
Links: Amazon | Amazon UK | Goodreads

For someone who doesn’t have kids himself, I’m a sucker for men with a protective Daddy instinct – and in MOONLIGHT, Pierce Alcede delivers that and so very, very much more.

Viviane Veracruz is in trouble. She’s a shifter – a wolf in a modern-day world in which fae, witches, and shifters live openly among humans – and she’s pregnant.

By a human.

Her professor.

And he says the baby isn’t his.

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And she’s graduating with no job offers, no prospects, on her way home to Sonora, Mexico with nothing but a degree, a brewing – and fatherless – baby, and a strange wolf by the name of Pierce who just might be the answer to most of her immediate problems. A lone wolf by nature, Pierce is consumed by the instinct to run, unable to stay caged in one place for long. But that instinct will save Viviane’s sanity when she brings him home as her pretend mate and the supposed father of her child, letting her ease back into her domineering, maddening family without too many humiliating questions and allowing her to stay in their good graces even after Pierce, according to their bargain and his lone wolf tendencies, inevitably leaves.

Except Pierce finds himself more and more reluctant to go, and in Viviane this lone wolf might well have found home.

MOONLIGHT is the second book in the Moonkind series, but you don’t need to read the first to enjoy it as a standalone or understand the story and worldbuilding. I’d never read this series, but still followed along quite easily with the overall lore. (Guilty confession: I was supposed to read this in time for the #WOCInRomance Book Club chat on Twitter, but I was too buried to finish it by the proper date. So I’m playing catch-up.) Whether you know the series or not, you’re in for searing instinctual attraction, heart-warming sweetness, and a tug of war between a heroine and hero who have every rational reason not to fall in love…but whose hearts don’t want to listen to reason at all.

Overall I found the story a light, charming read that balanced romance with angst with humor, while freckling about interesting bits of lore that hinted at the world that once was, and how the world as we know it came to be this place of magic, shifters, and strange new rules.

She knew full well that two centuries ago, human beings had knocked the world off kilter and brought the planet closer to the Moon’s orbit.

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The worldbuilding isn’t overwhelming, though. In a few places I’d like to have had more than just hints, but that may be a casualty of not reading the first book – or a believable void in character knowledge when it seems as though much of the truth of the past is buried in lore and legend. This leaves the stage free to focus on the romance, and the many obstacles in its path.

Something truly notable about MOONLIGHT is that it repeatedly takes stabs at toxic masculinity – placing women in positions of power and strength through their determination and intelligence, continuously rejecting and deriding typical male bad behavior born of patriarchal ideals, spotlighting a hero that most would label a beta and pointing out that his beta characteristics aren’t lesser, but instead what should be encouraged in a reasonable, caring, non-arseholeish alpha type. Viviane is a strong woman from a family of strong women; their family of sheep farmers has been dominated and run by women (and a female alpha, her mother Gloria) since the men of their pack let their egos get in the way of their livelihood and ended up decimated or invalids after a disastrous turf war with another pack that suffered equal losses. When the women stepped in to pick up the pieces, set everything right, and keep their family afloat, a new pack order was instituted that ensured Viviane would be raised in an environment that encouraged her to be fierce, intelligent, firm-willed, with a refusal to buy any man’s BS or let any man dominate, override, or rule her. (Or mansplain to her.) She’s very much about setting her own path, to the point of leaving the farm to attend university and explore her passion for industrial sciences despite her mother’s disapproval and her mother’s rejection of her ideas for how to modernize their farm for sustainability during droughts and other hard times.

Pierce is a man at odds with himself. He’s honorable, noble, kind, gentle, soft, but not weak; confident enough in himself that he has no need for posturing and bragging, handling his interactions with Viviane and everyone else with a combination of pride and humility, equanimity, common sense, and good-natured humor. He’s sensitive, caring, with a parental instinct he didn’t even realize he had until a meeting on the train to Mexico led him to a vivaciously beautiful, wickedly smart, utterly pregnant woman who doesn’t damned well need his protection or his support, but wouldn’t mind having him in her corner.

He’s also a drifter whose very nature means that he can’t keep his promises, even when he most wants to, because it’s in his blood to leave. To follow where the wind and his paws take him, making anything between him and Viviane – or anyone else – utterly impossible. His lone wolf nature clashes deeply with the honorable characteristics he displays as a human, yet both the man and the wolf agree on one thing:

They both desperately want Viviane.

And they’re pretty fucking intense about it.

His gaze flicked up to her without warning. Once again, her heart did that electric shock thud. On the other hand, maybe it was good he didn’t have a singular focus. Because when Pierce Alcede did offer up all of his attention, it felt like you were standing in the full beam of the mid-morning sun.

One of my favorite dynamics in a story is a combination of instant attraction and slow burn – which sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s possible when the couple in question fight that attraction for their own reasons. And it’s entirely amusing and endearing to watch both Viviane and Pierce dance around each other, mentally talking themselves out of thinking this could ever be anything even while falling into the small, familiar intimacies of an established couple, not even realizing how they’re slipping into each others’ habits and routines even as Pierce becomes a part of the family life and the daily workflow of the farm. Throughout this, Viviane’s mother is both a riot and a menace; unpredictable, stubborn, wild, independent, ferocious, judgmental, hilarious, loving, dangerous, a little vain.

“Do I look old enough to be a grandmother to you?” Gloria tugged at the loose waistband of her fitted jeans. “Did you even think to ask my permission before you did this?”

“No, mama.” Viviane rubbed her fingers at her temple; a monster headache was on its way. “When I was taking my clothes off, preparing to have sex, I did not think about you.”

Not even Gloria’s snarling, teasing, and skepticism can stop this fake mating from becoming real. Viviane’s long needed someone she could be vulnerable with without that vulnerability being used against her as a weakness, or undermining her partner’s respect for her strength; Pierce has long needed an outlet for a nurturing side that’s been unfulfilled for some time. There’s no denying that those needs leave them open to each other in a way that brims with fast-building tenderness. You can feel that these two were waiting to find each other for their entire lives, edges growing more and more raw with the wounds of other relationships and other troubles until they finally found the balm they needed: each other.

“Falling in love is not an act of stupidity. It’s magic. You’re worthy of that magic.”

When that slow burn finally builds into a full flame, it’s explosive – the kind of rough, desperate, no-holds-barred sex you tend to look for in a shifter romance. I wasn’t quite feeling it at first, but as it progressed and the two found their rhythm, they were at once sensuous and wild, loving and utterly savage in satisfying their inner wolves’ desire for the one who would be their mate. And Pierce? Said something that very few heterosexual (or let’s face it, queer) men ever do during sex:

“Tell me what you need, Vivi?”

Damn, boy. That’s sexier than any dirty talk. I’ll howl for that.

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Vivian is a woman to be admired, and Pierce is definitely a hero worth loving. Especially with a moderately satisfying HFN-to-probable-HEA ending (with a brief twist for a last few pages of breath-holding drama), in which he’s stepping in to take on a role as father for a child that isn’t even his own, staying for Viviane yet still finding an outlet for his roaming, while setting up the foundation for the two of them to be equal partners in raising this child – and in working to bring her mother around in order to modernize the farm and maintain their family’s livelihood while still respecting the old ways.

So why not five stars?

  1. Too many typos and POV breaks to ignore. With indie books I tend to forgive the occasional slip here and there; god knows I know how tough it is to refine a book to typo-free perfection when you’re either working with independent publishers with small editorial teams, or sourcing your own editorial team, etc. But when typos and breaks are cropping up on every page, it’s a bit much.
  2. I could buy Pierce loving Viviane, as we really get to know her as a person throughout the story – where she comes from, what she values, what she believes in, what she wants. Pierce doesn’t quite get the same treatment, though; Viviane asks him very little about himself and his background/roots, and while he gives a few details here and there, half the time it’s part of his internal narrative and not to her. The concept of the lone wolf with alpha characteristics who doesn’t need to act like an alpha brute seems to be all he is – and while he shines with a compelling force of personality, there’s not enough platform for that personality to stand on. Not if I’m supposed to believe that Viviane is interested enough in him to really get to know him and love him, and not if I’m supposed to believe the sudden leap toward spending their lives together. The emotion is there – like I said before, I can believe these two have been waiting their lives for each other – but the practical foundation isn’t. Though there’s a long period of days glossed over as general routine and settling in, so maybe this took place off-page during that time.
  3. MOONLIGHT pokes delightful fun at toxic masculinity and brings us a refreshing hero who knows how to be confident without being overly aggressive, how to be supportive and protective without being domineering, how to listen, how to be a partner instead of a gatekeeper, how to be attentive without being creepy or controlling. But. That gets overshadowed by falling back on toxic masculinity standards in multiple scenes where Viviane’s ex and the biological father of her child, Professor Daniel Liu, is mentioned. Where Pierce’s broad, tall, muscular body is described as perfect, Liu is compared to him in a way that subtly denigrates the fact that he was shorter than Viviane, his shoulders more narrow in width. Later Liu’s soft, small hands are compared to Pierce’s larger, more callused paws in a way that implies he fails to measure up. Y’all. Can we not do this? Punching across lanes like this and using Western toxic masculinity standards to judge and denigrate Asians for naturally having smaller, more compact builds? Not to mention this also derides trans men who are often excluded from socially enforced definitions of masculinity for having smaller builds and smaller, softer hands, falling into the same trap as mocking Drumpf for having tiny hands and using that as a judge of his character and his validity as a man, while ignoring how it hurts and insults trans men who might share those same physical characteristics. Judge Daniel Liu for being a piece of shite who uses a student for sex, gets her pregnant, cheats on her with other students (including those just shy of legal age), and then brushes her off / abandons her. Don’t turn natural Asian physical characteristics into part of that judgment and somehow a reflection on his character and value as a lover.

Despite that, overall MOONLIGHT was a fast, rather enjoyable read with a few speed bumps; I blitzed through it in about an hour and a half, even when reading on my annoyingly small phone screen while waiting for my Nook to charge. If you like smart, confident heroines, quietly strong-willed yet sensitive heroes, Black men taking on a nurturing father role, and shifter romances that smoothly integrate the shifter aspect into the practical everyday lives of shifter culture, then I think you’ll enjoy this. If you’re Asian and/or FtM and don’t like seeing your natural characteristics used to emphasize that the bad guy is, indeed, a bad guy…steer clear.

AUDIO READING

BOOKS IN THIS SERIES

moonrise-copy moonlight moonfall-notag
Coming Spring 2017

Discover more about Ines Johnson and her books at www.ineswrites.com.

Footnote: I think Pierce is Black? It’s never 100% stated that Pierce is Black and Viviane is Mexican, but Viviane can be inferred from the fact that her hometown is in Mexico and the last name Veracruz; Pierce’s Blackness could be inferred from his descriptions as a dark-skinned man with tightly-curled hair as well as the bloke on the cover, but his last name, Alcede, could be a derivative of Alcide, which is of Spanish origin – so he could be anything from Black to Black Latinx to Latinx with dark skin and tightly-curled hair. It felt comfortable reading him as Black and I marked this in the tags as a Black and Latinx pairing, but if anyone wants to confirm that he’s not Black I’ll correct it.


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