Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Cooper Woodlock is a man who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Between his gambling debt and being a widowed father, he can never seem to get Lady Luck back on his side.
Desperate for a winning hand, Cooper starts hitting saloons and tempting fate in order to keep the bloodthirsty Spades at bay.
When a black-clad gunslinger enters the game promising a slice of freedom, Cooper realizes all too late what he is actually playing for.
Claw Marks & Card Games (Stallion Ridge #2) by Maz Maddox started off a decidedly mixed bag for me. Touted as a standalone novel in a series it quickly become apparent that this novel is the furthest thing from a standalone creature that you can get.
You get thrown into a universe that you have no understanding of and that, quite frankly, you never get filled in on. The world building is completely missing. Somewhere in the past there was a major war with what? Shifters and humans? Shifters and shifters? You don’t know because it never get the background. Plus this is a western. Just because. When you enter this universe, there’s a tentative, not tentative peace between humans and shifters. I never figured that out. Some of the shifters were accepted, some not. Seemed to have to do with the history we weren’t getting.
A big part of the main couple’s history seems to reside in the first story, Heartache & Hoofbeats (Stallion Ridge #1). It’s the reason for the entire “main action element” that launches the characters and plot. The characters (couple) and their storyline is crucial to this novel and how it plays out as well as being intimately connected. Soooooo. How is this a standalone again?
By now you all must be wondering why did I give it such a high rating with my obvious irritation with the lack of worldbuilding and introductory confusion. Two words. The characters. Even with all the narrative holes in the foundation and downright bewilderment about the plot, my need to be with the characters drove me on until everything settles down to just them, the people (beings) around them, including one little spitfire of a daughter who may just take over the world.
Whatever else my arguments with Maz Maddox (or their editor), the characters here stole my heart. They are real and believable. Their truly awful start to a relationship continues and their misunderstandings/missteps are on both ends even as they try to figure out how to make it work out between them, one young kid included. Both have no idea how to make this work with each other yet others and the reader want to try…that’s the key…even given that start.
There are other story threads here to contain your interest. Plus killers, and more shifters, and one hell of a shocking ending that is going to leave you wanting the next story asap. No it doesn’t involve our couple.
I am definitely going back to read the first story. I think had I been prepared knowing that this must be read as part of a series, I would have done that first. I need to see what information that one fills in that this book lacks. But anyway, the author has me hooked. I need to know what happens next. I will be onto the third story.
For all of you who love shifters, this is definitely a twist on shifter romance. A bit of western, a bit of action/adventure and mystery, and 100 proof strong on characters. I will let you know what I find in book one.
Cover art: Shaleah Poster. Nice job with the western style and story elements if not particularly eye-catching.
Claw Marks & Card Games is book 2 in the Stallion Ridge series but can read as a stand-alone.
While this is a western romance, be prepared for a little paranormal with your sixshooters, my friends**.