That was the case with Bitten, which - since I got the Kindle copy from my library and so didn't see the cover art - I assumed was a vampire story. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find a story about the only female werewolf in the world, Elena, trying to make a life for herself away from her kind in modern society.
That doesn't last long, though, as Elena is soon called away from her devoted live-in boyfriend and city life to return to her Pack's home and help hunt down another werewolf-turned-murderer.
Elena's pack has plenty of obvious parallels to Twilight's Cullen family: a supernatural "family" living together in a remote-yet-lavish backwoods estate, a benevolent Alpha father figure who is obeyed without question, and their self-imposed obligation to police others of their kind, "mutts" who have less compunction about killing humans.
It was at this point, though - roughly 50 pages in - that the story started to fall apart for me. Up 'til then Elena seemed like a pretty relatable main character, but by the second night she's hopping into bed with two of her fellow pack mates, without so much as a passing thought to her boyfriend back home. It was really bizarre, with no lead-up, and seemed drastically out of character for her.
Anyway, before much happens, the three play a game of poker to determine which guy gets to sleep with her. (To be fair, Elena seems pretty on board with this.) When one wins, Elena obediently follows him out to the woods, but then starts to have second thoughts. So the guy overpowers her, ties her up, and forces her. (Again, this whole section was like the Twilight Zone invading - I couldn't believe it was the same story!) We're supposed to believe it's not quite rape, though, because after a while the guy says he'll stop if she really, really wants him to, and Elena finds she just can't say no anymore. So hey, SCORE ONE FOR ROMANCE.
I can't decide if the author was trying to emphasize the animalistic nature of werewolves, or if she was honestly trying to write a hot sex scene. I will say that it was so awkwardly written that I was still trying to figure out the mechanics - "wait, wasn't she hanging from her arms a second ago? So how is she lying on the ground now?" - by the time I realized it was over. In fact, it was so rushed and robotic in nature that I think the author just wanted the whole sordid ordeal over with as quickly as I did.
Anyway, I put the book down at this point to look it up, and learned that not only is Bitten primarily a romance (?!?), it also has five stars across the board from the vast majority of readers.
(From Amazon's review page. Clay is the-not-quite-rapist. How's that for terrifying?)
So, thoroughly confused, I decided to keep going and see if it got any better - or at least made any more sense.
Having finished all 540 pages now (yep, I WORKED for this review, guys), I can say that the "romance" angle does get better - if only because it couldn't possibly have gotten worse, and also because Elena doesn't get tied up and not-quite-raped again. In fact, Bitten is a pretty decent werewolf story that could have been quite good, if only it wasn't afflicted with lots of awkward rushed sex and a protagonist more self-absorbed than your average three-year-old.
It goes like this: Elena has sex with Clay, the-not-quite-rapist. Then Elena spends the next day(s) sulking and hating Clay for being so gosh-darned irresistible. They fight a lot. Then they have sex again - and it's always the super-rushed, mindless, literally-ripping-clothing-off kind of sex. About halfway through the book I started wondering how they had any clothes left, and if maybe Clay wouldn't benefit from some kind of performance aid. (WHAT.) Oh, and then Elena goes back to hating him again - all while rationalizing that her cheating isn't really her fault, it's Clay's for being so gosh-darned irresistible, and ooooh, does she hate him for it. And so on.
If you're starting to think that maybe Elena is a terrible person, then you'll understand why I had a hard time rooting for her. She IS a terrible person, only rarely realizes it, and never does anything to try and change her inherent terribleness.
However, like I said, things get a little better as the story goes on. And it does go on. And on. Let's call it the literary equivalent of a leisurely stroll - with occasional showers of dangling intestines. The more tedious sections are the ones where everyone's just running through the woods as wolves: killing rabbits, licking blood off each other's fur - you know, werewolfy things - but doing absolutely nothing to move the story along. I found myself skimming some of those.
Then, for no other reason than because it would be really, REALLY awkward, the author makes Elena live with her two guys in the same tiny apartment for a while. Elena ramps up the annoyance factor as she continues to waffle between the two men, lashing out at Clay all day while going to bed each night with her clueless-yet-saintly boyfriend. I may have started hoping for a few more dangling intestines at that point.
It would be one thing if Elena knew her own mind and was intentionally playing both men - not something I'd approve of, but at least she'd be acting from a place of strength and independence, as opposed to just being a fickle child with daddy issues (which get SUPER creepy, btw) and a bad case of narcissism. In the end she doesn't so much make a choice as have it made for her, which was, again, kind of disappointing. But at least it finally broke the snipe/sex/sulk cycle, so let's call that a win. (Heck, by that point anything that stopped her whining would have counted as a happy ending in my book.)
There are more books in The Otherworld Series, but since the next one, Stolen, also features Elena, I think it's safe to say I won't be reading it.
So, in conclusion, if you're looking for an edgy shape-shifters' romance filled with adventure, fascinating animal-based cultures, and gripping suspense, then I highly recommend Hawksong, by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.
In fact, the whole Kiesha'ra series is pretty flippin' fantastic. Enjoy!
For more of my reviews, check out this handy-dandy list. I've even starred some of my favorites there, in case you're just looking for other titles I'd recommend!