Don't judge a book by its cover, because what's inside Winter's debut novella is even better than the sexy cover design and professional layout. In short, Kept is an entertaining foray into a well-crafted, original universe, and it's worth every penny of its more than modest cover price.
Winter's approach to paranormal romance is refreshing. She manages to take some of the best elements of the genre and condense them into a compelling quick read. Her ideas are original without being labored, which is a real boost to a genre that may be hitting its saturation point. My only real criticism is that Kept is perhaps a bit too short. I wanted to know more about these characters and the world they live in. I'm not sure wanting to read more of an author's work really counts as a criticism, but it's all I've got. As an indie writer, Winter's execution is flawless. Her writing is top notch, as is the editing. There are no awkwardly worded sentences to stumble through, no holes in plot or character, and the layout is as good or better than some of the trad publishers I've read lately. Her website and supporting online material for the series is innovative and accessible. Check out theriantype.com to see what I mean.
Winter's real gift is characterization. Greta and Dayne both have distinct personalities and great chemistry, complete with pesky quirks, fantastic dialogue, and believeable physical attraction. Details make this book: Greta drinks milk straight from the carton, while Dayne is a bit obsessed with his gardening hobby. Dayne delivers one of the best lines in paranormal fiction ever when he's navigating a sticky moral situation: "Oh f*** it, I'm the bad guy." Winters manages to get them involved in a physical relationship without falling back on any of the unrealistic "instant soul mate" formula that's so prevalent in the genre. Their attraction is genuine and grounded in growing respect, attraction, and mutual need. Greta struggles to maintain her independence while falling hard for Dayne; Dayne is pulled in two directions by his fear of intimacy and a powerful need to protect this woman who clearly needs it. Make no mistake: this is a sexy book. Sex, Winters-style, is realistic, prevalent, and hot, all without feeling like you've taken an anatomy lesson.
She adds just enough detail to make not just her characters, but her entire world, believable. Her magical system seems solidly grounded and contemporary. No brooding ancient wizards and vampires or self-tortured shapeshifters here. Her supernaturals are comfortable in their own skin(s) and matter-of-fact about their natures and needs. One of several bumper stickers this book made me want to slap on my fender would read: "Real Wizards Use the Internet." Another? "This Cat Always Lands on Her Back." Hee hee. Bad of me, I know, but Kept just invites that kind of thing because it is, at its core, a FUN book set in an intriguing supernatural world I can't wait to read more about. I will definitely read the next two.