Category Archives: book reviews

Book Review: Ghost Wolf, by Hurri Cosmos

Hi, my name is Trevor. I’m a wolf shifter.

I say that like I know what I’m talking about. I don’t. I was simply running off a ton of steam one day when I was around eleven and bam! Okay, not quite that easy or fast but it happened when I was young and stupid. I’m also gay. I say that like I know what I’m talking about with that too. I simply don’t.

I’m grown up now and living in the big city which has me too busy to much care about either one of those things. I get out and run my wolf when I can, trying like hell to stay out of the local pack’s territories. Belonging to a “family” just sounds like too much work, and honestly I don’t have time for such things. Besides, I was told when I was young the color of my wolf was all wrong. Too silver…or something. Metallic. I kinda thought it looked cool in the full moon. “Pack Alpha would kill ya soon as look at ya.” My grandpa used to say. Course he wasn’t my real grandpa. Just an old man who lived down the street, but he was a shifter too and I thought he knew it all. He probably knew diddly either, but a guy can’t be too careful. And romance? Way off the radar.

Only now someone has started killing wolves. Started leaving broken bodies lined up in a nice little row next to the high school in my home town and it’s got me to thinking. If a shifter is killed in his or her wolf state, do they stay that way? Were these dead wolves like me? The hell of it all is this: being a shifter isn’t common knowledge. It bothers me enough that now I want to find out more. See if there’s anything I can do. Kind of like a super hero.

Oh yeah. Probably forgot to tell you this too. I can turn invisible.

Yep, Ghost Wolf to the rescue.

2.25 out of 5

There’s a good book somewhere in Ghost Wolf. Unfortunately, it’s hidden by a huge pile of unnecessary exposition, aimless side-plot, and a lack of character development. While Cosmo’s writing style flows well, the book would be vastly improved with some stringent editing and some pointers on re-thinking some of the plot points.

I am a sucker for the lowly-protagonist-finds-themselves-the-key-to-Big-Problem plotline. This is one way to tell the story of the Hero’s Journey, and when done well it can be utterly engrossing. The problem here is that Trevor starts as a shy and impulsive social misfit who makes poor decisions and by the end of the book he’s…a shy and impulsive social misfit who makes poor decisions. What have we accomplished here? What is acceptable at the beginning of the book becomes increasingly annoying as little character growth occurs.

The side-characters are, alas, rather flimsy. Trevor’s Fated Mate (a term which is thrown around to exhaustion) Ryan is rich, strong, and dotes on Trevor. We don’t really get too much more insight into his character than that. The one character who does have an arc goes from potential antagonist to ally to friend appears to change course at the drop of a hat (or a single revelation).

Then there’s the exposition dump. We learn a lot about werewolf pack dynamics, rules, ranks, and how the packs relate to each other. There’s nothing wrong with this, but 1. Don’t give all of the information at once in pages after pages, and 2. Ask whether each bit of information is relevant to the plot. Unfortunately, at least 50% of the information given is not, and can actually be quite distracting (like why are werewolf ranks Greek letters, until they’re not?).

Then there’s the plot. The blurb suggests the wolf murders are central to the plot, but in reality, they are peripheral. The how and why of them is given very early on, so there’s not much mystery there. Plot points need to be made, but do so efficiently. I don’t need to know what bus a character took and what transfers needed to be made to do so. This can all be dispatched with a single sentence. There is also an entire subplot about misdeeds at Trevor’s workplace that has zero impact on the overall plot and could be cut completely. I also think the plot twist in the final 10% of the book could be eliminated completely and the book would be stronger for it, but that is my own personal preference.

Finally, while spell checking is a great thing, it completely misses homophones. There were many incorrect homophones in the text, which was distracting. On the bright side, the book cover design is quite nice, a welcome diversion from the usual style of the genre.

I’m afraid I cannot recommend Ghost Wolf in its present form. Perhaps if it is re-edited and revised at a later date it may be worth reading, though.

Book Review: Blackbird in the Reeds, by Sam Burns

Devon Murphy has never believed that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden, but when he’s in an accident on his way to his grandmother’s house and comes face to face with the biggest, baddest wolf he’s ever seen, he’s forced to reconsider.

When his grandmother asks him to look into a string of suspicious accidents, he finds a much bigger mystery to unravel. From his childhood best friend to the too-attractive Deputy Wade Hunter, everyone in Rowan Harbor seems to have something to hide. Devon has to get to the bottom of it all before the accidents turn deadly.

Blackbird in the Reeds, by Sam Burns

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Y’all, I have stumbled onto something and it’s pretty darned amazing. What Sam Burns is doing here is incredibly ambitious: The Rowan Harbor Cycle is three trilogies, nine books in all. The books are being self-published, and she plans to release all nine books this year, with the final book release planned by December. Now, if this was a series of short stories or even novellas I’d still be impressed, but these are ~200 page books. Judging from the first two books, the whole series is going to be great!

Rowan Harbor, a small town on the Oregon coast, has secrets. The town is populated by werewolves and fairies, witches and vampires, all of whom look perfectly normal to any stranger visiting. That stranger will very quickly find themselves unwelcome and gently urged to move on, though. The families in town, each with a unique paranormal trait, rule, but the time is coming for a changing of the guard.

Devon is a mess. He’s a bit of a drifter, afraid to get too close to people because he can be persuasive. Too persuasive, it seems, as in people will happily do most anything he requests. This weighs heavily on his conscience, though, and so he holds everyone at arm’s length. After many years away, he’s returning to Rowan Harbor, unaware of the uniqueness of the town (or of himself). We don’t get to learn too much about Wade here, though I suspect as the cycle continues we’ll get much more on him.

Three couples are featured in the Rowan Harbor Cycle, and each couple stars in a book in each trilogy. This is good to know going into this, the first book in the series, because initially I felt that the romance between Devon and Wade was given short shrift. After reading Wolf and the Rowan the concept makes more sense, though. There’s a little bit of the “fated mates”/”soulmates” trope going on here, but it’s a trope I happen to like if done well, and that is the case here. I think if I had any complaint it’s that as the story gets laid out and the cast of characters grows it gets a little confusing remembering who is related to whom and what the unique trait of each family is. I think this is just a minor issue, though.

At least so far, I would categorize these books as urban fantasy with some romance elements – a mix that I really enjoy. This being the first book in the series, a good bit of time is spent world-building: establishing the setting, introducing the characters, and hinting at the underlying conflicts that will drive the story. Burns excels at showing, not telling, as we learn about how it all works bit by bit.

I would highly recommend Blackbird in the Reeds (and even moreso in the second book in the cycle, Wolf and the Holly). This is a rich world filled with interesting characters and the promise of excellent stories ahead.

Book Review: Quinn’s Gambit (AURA #1), by Bellora Quinn and Angel Martinez

After a terrible magical accident at Berkeley created unpredictable holes between realities, all manner of non-human creatures started popping into our world. These displacements, called Random Anomalous Reality Events or RARE, have taken magic out of fiction and relocated it firmly in reality, resulting in a great deal of chaos and confusion. Displaced elf Valerian works with AURA, the Agency of Unnatural Resettlement and Assimilation, to intercept these beings as they appear in the human world, helping the peaceful ones and subduing the violent, malevolent ones. It’s good, satisfying work, and Val would be happy if he wasn’t so lonely.

Quinten is a young mage just trying to get by, but New York isn’t the easiest city to make a living in. If his methods are sometimes morally dubious, his heart is still in the right place. Of course, for Quinn, the right place means firmly locked away, protected at all costs. Living by his wits and sometimes magically induced luck, he works as a ‘freelance magic user’, or unregistered mage and small-time con, according to the authorities. The last thing Quinn wants is to draw the cops’ attention, but when an Event happens right on top of him, he’s forced to turn to AURA for help. Valerian isn’t at all what he’d expected in an AURA cop, and he certainly wasn’t expecting to join forces with the sexy elf, a snarky drow and a bitter incubus, when certain individuals in power try to stop the RARE by any means necessary.

Things are not all what they seem at AURA headquarters, and a greater evil lurks at the top than anyone could have imagined.

Quinn’s Gambit (AURA #1), by Bellora Quinn and Angel Martinez
Rating: 4 out of 5

This one was quite an enjoyable read! I love the world that Quinn and Martinez have created here. The magical accident referred to in blurb happened decades ago a kind of new normal has been established, but I liked how the situation continued to evolve, and the characters are forced to adapt. I had a few questions about what is going on outside of the New York City as the events of the book are going down, but that’s a small thing that’s peripheral to the book.

Quinn is a bit of a stereotype (talented rogue who resists authority), but at least he’s a pretty nice guy. Val is a bit more complex, and seeing him try to place status roles from the elven society he knows over the human society he is now forced to live in is fascinating to read. Nowhere is this more evident than when he has to work with Kai, a drow (dark elf) who would be his enemy back home but is his co-worker now. I enjoyed seeing their complicated relationship evolve. Quinn and Val make a cute couple, but they do suffer from that dreaded disease common in romance stories, communicationus interruptus. So much of their issues could be worked out if they just talked to each other like adults. That frustrated me at times.

The secondary characters here are great fun, including Kai and his doting yeti boyfriend, a gay incubus who by nature takes his life essence from women, and others. They help to create a rich background for a story that is fast-paced, up to a point. The book has almost an extended epilogue in which we see more of Quinn and Val’s relationship and watch the stage be set for the future books in the series.

I recommend this if you like urban fantasy with some great world-building and fun, quirky characters.

Book Review: Love Bites and Moon Born (Feral Hearts Tales, vol. 1 & 2), by D. River

Ryder has been friends with Tucker since they were in the first grade. They grew up together, they joined the Marines together and they moved to the vast metropolis of New York City together. Nothing could tear them apart.

Or so they believed. When they get bitten by a mysterious creature, they find themselves drawn together in a whole new way that is both exciting and terrifying. Neither of them is prepared to face the feelings they now have or what that could mean for their future.

This is the story of their quest for a cure, which takes them through such locales as Little Avalon, the Wild Wood and the haunted ruins of Old Syracuse. Together they must face down dangers and challenges even as they grapple with the life-shift of now being mated werewolves.

Join Ryder and Tucker for a fun, romantic adventure set in an Earth much like our own, but where magic and magical creatures are as much a part of the world as science and technology.

[blurb for Moon Born omitted due to spoilers for Love Bites]

Love Bites and Moon Born (Feral Hearts Tales, vol. 1 & 2), by D. River

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

First off, these books are so much better than their covers. OK, now that I have that out of my system…

I originally read these in 2016, as I was just starting into the m/m paranormal romance genre. Re-reading them now that I have a little more context makes the books that much better.

D. River has created a unique world here, one where the paranormal and everyday society as we know it exist side by side. In the 20th century there was a war between the two sides and an uneasy truce was established, with the human government having the upper hand and segregating the paranormal folk (vampires, fairies, wizards, etc.) to small enclaves. Meanwhile outside the cities, faerie elements run rampant in the Wild Places. There even the very trees actively work to repel human invaders.

Amidst all of this is the legend of the werewolves, or lycans, created by Native Americans to defend against European settlers. Lycans were fearsome creatures, killing machines bent on destroying humans. The last lycan was killed over a hundred years ago, and they were wiped from the face of the earth. And so the scene is set…

The heart of these stories is Ryder and Tucker, friends since childhood, inseparable since then. I loved these guys so much! The author has created a couple of relatable, well-rounded characters with clear and understandable motivations. While the gay-for-you/out-for-you trope is usually fingernails on a chalkboard for me, I like how their relationship is handled here. The boundaries between platonic and romantic love prove to be more flexible than expected, and I’m not gonna lie – Tucker’s alpha dominance is really freaking sexy! The story is told from Ryder’s point of view, and it’s a good choice. He’s a lovable goof, strong in his emotions and his love for Tucker. He’s a perfect foil to Tucker’s somber and stoic demeanor.

The secondary characters are delightful too. River is skilled as building a character with an economy of exposition and without resorting to stereotypes or archetypes, so even if a character isn’t on the page long you have a good idea of they kind of person they are.

The other thing that I really liked about these books is there is a sense of humor throughout which keeps the story from getting too weighty. Even better, some of that humor shows up in the (smoking hot!) sex scenes, which I love. It keeps everyone involved from taking themselves too seriously. The plot here is fast-paced, and there are some nice over-arching mysteries as the characters deal with their own problems too. There are so many plot threads here that D. River could easily write a dozen more books, and I’d happily read every one of them!

These books are a great combination of interesting setting, great characters, and an intriguing and fast-paced plot. I highly recommend these!

Follow-Up (added 13 February 2018): In email correspondence with D. River (a very pleasant fellow!) I have learned that for all that I enjoyed these books, they just didn’t take off among shifter/paranormal romance fans. The sad reality of being a professional author is that writing books that won’t sell isn’t a great way to put food on the table. While I’m disappointed, I absolutely understand and will definitely seek out other books from Lightbane Publications.

Book Review: Ghost of a Chance (Requiem Inc. #1), by Kris T. Bethke

Ghost of a Chance (Requiem Inc. #1), by Kris T. Bethke

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Ghostwalker Blake Jones dies every day. It’s his job and how he helps trapped souls cross over. But to return to life, he needs an anchor. His new partner, Derek Scott, is a surprise. Not only is he male, but his appearance belies a caring and gentle heart. Despite attraction and a strengthening relationship, they know they shouldn’t take things further.

But there’s a big difference between knowing and doing.

Their growing love presents a problem, though not the one they expect. Blake and Derek have to decide if they should take their relationship to the most permanent level-an unbreakable metaphysical bond. Doing so offers both risk and unimaginable reward. Can Blake let go of his fears and put his complete trust in Derek in order to have the happily ever after he’s always craved?

I have a confession to make: looking over my list of favorite books from 2017 and especially after reading this book, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a complete sucker for the hurt/comfort trope. This is where one (or both) of the main characters are hurt physically or psychologically and are comforted by the other character. I guess the only reason I feel a little guilty about it is that it can feel exploitative if not handled properly, but that’s pretty much my own internal hang-ups. Anyway, the most direct way to my heart (and likely make me tear up) is to have two guys caring and providing comfort for each other. This explains why this book blew me away.

At its heart this is a character-driven story, and not only are the main characters good, so are the secondary characters. Blake is a bit of a mess. He’s impetuous, emotional, and due to a long series of poor choices in boyfriends, extremely reluctant to consider another relationship. Derek is so many things Blake is not: calm, unwavering, and willing to commit to a man he finds attractive in mind, body, and soul. They share a deep caring and dedication, though, and this is what brings them together. They just click, although this can lead to other complications at work.

I loved the secondary characters, and that we got just enough of them to want to learn more. Blake’s brother Sam, mentor Avery, and Michael King, who is both Sam and Blake’s boss, yet Sam has an unrequited crush on him. Add in the fact that King is a telepath and carrying such a secret crush may not be so secret. Might this be explored more in the next book in the series? I can hope!

Structure-wise, the story has a good flow. It’s not particularly complicated and that’s OK. Bethke does a nice job of taking an aspect of the story that could be horrifying (the fact that Blake must be literally killed every day to do his job – and how do you kill someone whose body heals almost instantly, yet still allow them to come back to life when necessary?) and making it seem almost routine, though no less disturbing. The world-building is minimal, except to note that it is pretty much exactly the same as current day with the exception that things like Requiem, Inc. exist and are commonly known. This doesn’t stand in the way of the story at all, though.

This is one of those books where story, characters, and setting all come together to form a beautifully cohesive whole. I loved it so much, and enthusiastically recommend it!

Book Review: Archie’s Accidental Kidnapping, by Toni Griffin

Archie’s Accidental Kidnapping (Hounds of the Hunt #1, by Toni Griffin

Long nights hunting supernatural beings means little time for love in Adze’s life. He and his pack mates are what protects Melbourne, and Australia, from the things that go bump in the night—very real spirits and demons who prey on humans.

Every day Archie’s life is consumed by work as he desperately tries to pay back his student debt and a loan a boyfriend took out in his name. Tired and alone, he dreams of a future with someone to love and hold him through the night.

One fateful encounter with a nephilim gone bad changes both their worlds forever. Now Adze just has to convince his heart mate he didn’t actually kidnap him.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

There’s a really good book hidden in here somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s covered by enough issues things became problematic for me. I really liked the characters, and there is a lot of potential in the pack of hellhounds that Adze leads, even if I never felt of an understanding of Adze’s character. Archie is great, though. He’s an everyday guy whose work is his life; he’s deeply in debt due to the indiscretions of a past boyfriend and has to work two jobs to make ends meet. He’s a smart, independent man who makes a good foil for Adze’s overprotectiveness.

The world-building is minimal, but I can roll with it. I would love to know more about the supernatural elements which are hidden from our world and how they work, but we’re not given much to go on. I was left with a lot of questions – we know what happens when a supernatural being goes bad, but what about when they’re good. Do they even know they are supernatural?

On top of all of this, we come to the basic elements of the story, and that’s where I started to have problems. Apparently, this was originally a short story that was fleshed out into a full novel. This may explain for the unevenness in tone that completely took me out of the story. It’s a cute story about Adze courting Archie, until suddenly it gets a whole lot more grim. After that we suddenly switch back to a lighter touch in a series of scenes that are WAY too detailed and bog things down.

Then there’s the editing. If a story is good enough I can overlook a lot of sins, but the number of misplaced commas, sentence fragments, and outright incorrect word choices (“The feeling of safety they imbibed every time they were around wrapped Archie up like a blanket…” Imbued, perhaps?) made it clear that this needs a lot more editing. On a side note: I’ve had three years of Latin. If someone mentioned the phrase “Cor Coeunt” colloquially, I wouldn’t have any idea what the hell they were talking about (and depending on their accent I might be appalled at their use of a vulgarity!).

If the blurb intrigues you, then by all means give this one a shot. I will probably pick up the next book to see where things go.

Book Review: Breaking the Ice, by Tali Spencer

For Matt Wasko, February in Wisconsin is the best time of the year, and ice fishing on Lake Winnebago is his idea of heaven. With shanty villages cropping up, barbeques on the ice, monster sturgeon to spear, and plenty of booze to keep everybody warm, things couldn’t be better — until a surprise storm hits and an uninvited guest shows up at his frozen doorstep.

Matt’s not happy to see John Lutz, a coworker who cracks lame gay jokes at Matt’s expense. But John’s flimsy new ice shelter got blown across the lake, and it wouldn’t be right to leave even a jerk outside to freeze. Would it?

In the close quarters of Matt’s fabulous ice shanty, between stripping off wet clothes, misadventures with bait, and a fighting trophy-sized walleye, the two men discover creative ways to keep the cold at bay. And when John confesses his long-running attraction, Matt must decide if he can believe in John’s change of heart — and crack the ice for a chance at finding love.

Breaking the Ice, by Tali Spencer

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

When I read fiction that takes place in an area I know well, I always pay extra-close attention. If an author is going through the trouble of setting their story in a specific place, they’d better get it right or it takes me out of the story completely. And yes, I may still be salty about Jim Butcher’s geographical mishaps in Chicago in the first Dresden Files book, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m pleased to say that Tali Spencer’s novella Breaking the Ice nails Wisconsin. I’ve been to many of these places (or places like them) and I’ve met these people , or people like them. The bulk of the story takes place in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, though I was amused at the brief passage that takes place in Milwaukee. I’ve been to that neighborhood, and I know exactly the type of house that was described.

John is from Milwaukee by way of Kenosha, now working north of Menomonee Falls. He’s done a great job of keeping a low profile as a gay man in an oh-so-straight blue collar, Midwestern world. Too good of a job, unfortunately, and he’s reaching a point in his life where he is realizing that maybe he needs to rethink that approach. Matt, on the other hand, is out and proud. He puts up with the gay jokes at work and at bowling league, and appears to thrive in spite of it. When he is out fishing on Lake Winnebago among friends, though, nobody cares if he’s gay, bi, or straight – he’s at home in “Waskoville”, an exuberant ad-hoc community that appears on the ice when it’s time to fish for sturgeon, a tradition dating back to his grandfather and carried on by Matt.

At its heart, this is a story of a guy who has screwed up his life, and trying to figure out what we can do to fix it. Watching the John and Matt work out something between them is adorable, and the happily ever after had me tearing up. If I had any complaint it’s that the events at the end of the story seem a bit rushed, but then it’s a novella, not a novel. I really enjoyed this story and happily recommend it!