- Title: Pandora’s Box
- Author: Natalie Stenzel
- Series: Pandora #1
- Genre: Adult, Paranormal Romance
- Category: Phooka (or Puca), Druid
- Length: 308 Pages
- Website: http://www.natalestenzel.com/
Summary: Pandemina Dorothy Avery (Mina) was an average woman with an average life and an average relationship. That all changed when she found her live-in boyfriend in bed with the vindictive mother of one of her students. Not only did her boyfriend leave her for the other woman, but his new mistress-turned-girlfriend is spiteful enough to get Mina fired from her teaching job for having lived with the school superintendent out of wedlock. Who would have guessed that her average relationship would have resulted in an ethics scandal?
Jobless and alone, Mina doesn’t hesitate to meet with an attorney who calls her about an inheritance she has received from a long-lost Aunt she never knew. What an enormous disappointment to discover that all she inherited was a rock! But the rock turns out to be a prison in which a devious Puca has been held captive for two thousand years. Because she had never known her father, Mina didn’t have a clue that she was a descendent from a magical Druid bloodline. Prophecies had foretold of a woman from this bloodline who would eventually open the stone prison and release the Puca, and sure enough, Mina does exactly that by accident while examining the rock.
It was definitely unsettling to discover that the strange voice she was hearing in her head was actually some sort of shape-shifting horseman named Riordan. But on the positive side, Teague, the gorgeous carpenter who was working on Mina’s house to get it ready to sell, comes running to Mina’s aid after the rock opens with an explosion that blows a hole in her house. Much to her surprise, the perfect and supportive Teague is interested in being more than just her contractor.
Unfortunately, Mina’s plans for a hot romance with Teague are moving in slow motion because she has a Puca to deal with. When Mina accepted her inheritance, she became the Guardian of the imprisoned Puca. This means that unless she finds a way to break the curse, Riordan is both physically and mentally connected to her. Riordan can not only read her every thought, but he can also speak to her through their mental telepathy, and he cannot be physically further away from her than a couple of rooms. The last thing Mina wants is to have Riordan’s commentary or audience while she is getting intimate with her new boyfriend.
So Mina and Riordan strike up a deal – she will help him find a way to break free from his curse, and in exchange, Riordan will take the shape of a dog when Teague is around so that Mina doesn’t have to stay away from her dream man. Researching the curse proves to be very difficult. Unfortunately, Druids have never believed in writing anything down. Can she find a way to free him before the curse puts him back in the rock for eternity? She has to, because if Riordan goes back in the rock, Mina’s mental connection to him (as his Guardian), will exist for the rest of her life.
Review: I selected this book for one simple reason: there was a Phooka (Puca) as a main character. I have been looking for a book featuring a Phooka for a long time, and this is the first I’ve found. I dove into the story really wanting to love it, but it didn’t quite get there for me. It was cute and enjoyable, but more of an average read overall.
I liked that this author spent a lot of time developing the relationship(s). This was not the typical “passionate-love-at-first-site” romance novel. Mina feels instant attraction in this story, but she doesn’t jump into love or into bed with anyone. Instead, she developed friendships, and over time, one relationships gained strength and grew into love. This was a refreshing change compared to the normal approach in this genre, and the romance felt authentic as a result.
I also liked being completely surprised by a couple of twists in the story. I’m not going to include any spoilers in this review, so I can’t go into much detail here. I’ll just say that there was one twist that I thought was creatively genius, although slightly awkward/uncomfortable from a romantic perspective. A second major twist was linked to the story’s resolution, and while surprising, it felt a little too easy. The twists in this book definitely added to the story’s originality, but I’m not sure they were successfully executed.
While I appreciated that the romance developed slowly, I wasn’t crazy about the fact that the rest of the story moved so slowly also. I wanted to see more progress in the primary storyline about releasing Riordan from his cursed captivity. I wish there had been more discovery throughout the book. Instead, all of the action occurred at the end in a giant whirl of activity – including the introduction of important supporting characters who joined the cast just as the book was ending. I wish this had been balanced better. It made the book feel like a long leisurely walk with an all-out sprint at the end. That sprint went by so quickly that I didn’t have time to focus on some of the more interesting elements of the book.
One other note: I listened to the audio version of this book, and I strongly recommend that you do NOT do this. The narrator, Cynthia Wallace, is now one of two narrators that you could not pay me to listen to again. Her character voices sounded like a little girl playing make-believe with high-pitched sing-songy soprano voices for the women, and effeminate overly dramatic voices for the men. It was laughable. Definitely choose the book or ebook versions for this one.
The next book in this series may not be at the top of my priority list, but I’d like to read it eventually. There is good stuff here, and I’m hopeful that the execution will improve as the series progresses.