Madison Huntley, a ranger with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish has been called out to the site of the mysterious slaughter of domestic animals on a local ranch. It appears to have been perpetrated by some kind of wild animal, but the tracks leading away from the bodies are not those of any creature she has seen before. The trail ends in the yard of a neighboring house owned by Kaletaka.
Kaletaka is a Hopi Indian, a talented artist who creates metal sculptures of gods who are half-man, half-beast. Lately, he has been feeling strange and awakens in the mornings unable to remember where he was the night before. When Madison comes to question him about the killings, Kaletaka is immediately attracted to her, but reluctant to become involved, because of the danger that a relationship with her could present. Kaletaka senses that a great evil is lurking in the night, and even he cannot be certain if the culprit is himself.
I met Vijaya Schartz at an event almost a year ago, and she recently sent me a copy of her latest e-book novella, Coyote Gorgeous, for review. The story is a hybrid of paranormal romance and romantic suspense combining the heroine's investigation of the mysterious killings of domestic animals on a local ranch with Native American skinwalker legends. I typically enjoy Native American stories, and Coyote Gorgeous was no exception. I love learning about their culture and customs, and I came away from reading this novella feeling as though that knowledge had been enriched. Even though this is a fictional story in which some creative license was taken, Ms. Schartz wove in interesting factual information about a Hopi ritual sacrifice of golden eaglets (I felt pretty much the same way about it as Madison did: barbaric but culturally fascinating) and the skinwalker legends which are very similar to the were-creature legends of other cultures. I found myself intrigued enough by the unusual subject matter to do a little research of my own online. The descriptions of the Southwestern setting were very well done, making them clearly visible in my mind's eye, although I readily admit that it may be easier for me than the average reader since I live in the area that was being depicted. The suspense element was also well written. I got nearly all the way through the story thinking I knew who the "bad guy" was, only to get a surprise twist at the end. I also don't think I've ever read suspense paired with the supernatural in quite the way that it was here, so that was something unique and different for me as a reader too.
I really liked both the hero and heroine. I'm not sure Kaletaka could have been more scrumptious if he tried. He's a sexy Hopi Indian with long dark hair who rides a motorcycle, is an incredibly talented sculptor, and knows his way around a kitchen to boot. All I have to say is, "Yummmm!" Madison was a great match for Kaletaka. She's a spunky lady who is a law enforcement officer of a different sort, a ranger with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish. I love how she deftly handles herself, both in the field (guns included) and against the unwanted advances of her boss/ex-boyfriend, but also knows how to be gentle and feminine. I liked that in spite of her being raised by a father and brother who took her on their hunting trips, that she disdains the practice and instead is an animal lover who has dedicated herself to protecting all creatures. The only thing that would have made these two better for me would have been more exploration of their backstories. Even though they were pretty well-defined characters and there was enough information to build my liking for them, I tend to prefer getting inside the hero and heroine's heads a little more than I was allowed to here. There were also several doubts raised about their cultural backgrounds being incompatible, but that all seemed to magically disappear. Additionally, I felt that the paranormal and suspense elements overshadowed the romance a bit. I would have liked to see a few more romantic scenes, although I must say that the candlelight, "not-a-date" dinner that Kal cooked for Madison was particularly wonderful and probably my favorite scene in the entire novella. Overall, Coyote Gorgeous was a fast-paced, action-packed and enjoyable read. It was my first story by Vijaya Schartz, and has certainly left me open to trying some of her other works in the future.
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