Tag Archives: nonwolf shifters

Audiobook Review: By Fairy Means or Foul, by Meghan Maslow, performed by Greg Boudreaux

The last thing half-dragon, half-fairy private investigator Twig Starfig wants to do is retrieve a stolen enchanted horn from a treacherous fae, but there’s no denying the dazzlingly gorgeous unicorn who asks Twig to do just that. Literally, no denying, because compelling the reluctant detective is all part of a unicorn’s seductive magic.

To add to his woes, Twig is saddled with the unicorn’s cheeky indentured servant, Quinn Broomsparkle. Dragons are supposed to want to eat humans, but Twig’s half-dragon side only wants to gobble up Quinn in a more . . . personal way. Making matters worse, it’s obvious the smokin’ hot but untrustworthy sidekick is hiding something. Something big. And not what’s in his trousers. In the PI business, that means trouble with a capital Q.

Throw in gads of zombies, a creepy ghost pirate ship, a malfunctioning magic carpet, and Twig’s overbearing fairy father’s demands to live up to the illustrious Starfig name. Naturally, an old but abiding enemy chooses this time to resurface, too. Those inconveniences Twig can handle. The realization he’s falling for a human who isn’t free to return his affections and whose life may hang on the success of his latest case?

Not so much.

By Fairy Means or Foul (Starfig Investigations #1), by Meghan Maslow, performed by Greg Boudreaux

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

I went into this one with some trepidations. The blurb is pretty over-the-top, after all. As far as it goes, it’s pretty true to the book, but it leaves out something that makes it all worthwhile: the fact that Maslow has created characters with some terrific depth that the reader really comes to care about. Once you roll with the farcical fantasy elements (and there are more than enough of those here!) you get one hell of a fun story.

The story is told by Twig, and I really liked that we see the world through his eyes, with elements of discrimination and injustice that he doesn’t like but just has to live with. His family history and the decisions he’s made to this point in his life make him a fascinating character, balancing between two worlds yet never fully a part of either.

Then we have Quinn, who has So. Much. Sass. He starts out in a terrible situation, and the more we learn about him the more we cheer for him, and for Quinn and Twig as a couple (uh, spoiler alert? Yeah, not remotely). The two play off each other perfectly, and the recurring themes of personal independence and control only serve to highlight the chemistry between the two. Although the antagonist characters are paper thin, the supporting characters that Twig and Quinn meet along the way make up for it.

As for the overarching story, there’s not a whole lot of mystery; rather, things are episodic as in a typical fantasy quest. Maslow does have a lot of fun with the usual fantasy tropes, leading the reader often to assume things about places or characters that turn out to be less than accurate. As I was reading this I couldn’t help but be reminded of Glen Cook’s Garrett Files series and while there are some similarities the depth of the characters in By Fairy Means or Foul make this a much more enjoyable and interesting book. I look forward to seeing more in this series!

As for the audio, Boudreaux thoroughly nails this one. Twig’s narration is in a deadpan, Patrick-Warburton-esque tone that fits the story perfectly. Quinn’s nervous tenor voice offsets Twig nicely, and the variety of accents used for the cast of characters makes each one unique and easy to follow. The best parts of Boudreaux’s performance were the verbal idiosyncrasies and changes in tone and inflection that don’t always come across in the written word, but are employed perfectly here. He takes a fun and engaging story and elevates it further into something really enjoyable. I’ll definitely seek out his work again.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable book with some great characters that doesn’t take itself too seriously, this is the one. The audiobook makes it even better and I recommend it highly!

Book Review: Never Lose Your Flames (New Canadiana #1), by Francis Gideon

Cop-turned-bounty-hunter Gabe Dominguez is hired to capture firestarter Nat Wyatt. For a dragon-shifter like Gabe, apprehending Nat is easy, but transporting him involves more time, energy, and blood loss than he envisioned. An attack from a band of fairies, an out-of-control forest fire, and a showdown at an auction don’t faze Gabe, but Nat’s innocence might stop him entirely.

Since discovering his abilities, Nat’s lost a best friend, a boyfriend, and trust in his brother. Only his love of concerts and card games get him through life without a home. Rumors of the Judge, a giant dragon who once destroyed half of Canada avenging those he loved, provide Nat with hope of vindication. When Nat discovers his captor is the Judge, he thinks he’s finally caught a break. Through late-night conversations and a shared love of music, Nat tries to convince Gabe he’s not guilty.

Can Gabe continue his cutthroat lifestyle, or will he run away with his dragon hoard like he’s always longed to do? Can Nat escape his legacy, or will his be another spark snuffed out by people who don’t understand? The Oracle, the most powerful wizard in Canada, might be the only one who can provide answers.

Never Lose Your Flames (New Canadiana #1), by Francis Gideon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This one was good enough that I’m fighting off the dreaded book hangover. At 335 pages, it’s a long read but I never felt it was getting bogged down. The blurb does the book a bit of a disservice, highlighting some odd portions of the plot, but the core of it is right at least.

At its heart the story is an epic road trip through the Canadian prairie provinces, from Winnipeg to Calgary, only in this world rampaging bands of murderous faeries, elementals, gargoyles, and more. Having recently made that journey myself, I really enjoyed the sense of place (or given the emptiness of a lot of that area, the lack thereof).

Gideon has created a fascinating world where the “supernaturals” who have always been lurking out of sight are now an open part of society, even if they are usually marginalized. This is a character-driven story, though, and this is where things really shine. Gabe and Nat are complicated people with complicated histories. The point of view alternates between them as the story progresses, and as we learn more about each their biases, desires, and fears take on added dimension. What really struck me about Nat was, even though he harbored some small hope of a different outcome, he’s resigned to his fate. Instead he mostly is just himself, not begging, pleading, or putting on an act for Gabe. This is likely a good thing because Gabe has seen way too much, and would turn away in an instant if that were the case. The relationship between Nat and Gabe is a slow burn (sorry) but as they sort things out and realize they can rely on one another the caring they have for each other shines through, and is incredibly sweet.

There are a lot of small details that I loved about this book, including Nat’s Tarot-cards and “game” which give us great insight into how his mind works. The side characters are fantastic as well, especially the lovely couple Tansy and Imogen, Gabe’s fixer “J”, and even Gabe’s boss Duke, who interacts by text message most of the book. One other thing I loved about this book is that it is very trans-inclusive. Trans characters are presented in a very matter-of-fact manner, exactly as it should be.

This is a great book with some amazing characters, quite well-written. I happily recommend it!

Book Review: The Wolf’s Man Friday (Nose to Tail Inc. #2), by Julia Talbot

The last thing Sebastian Zeller wants is to be pack Alpha. But when the pack leader, his uncle Ron, is attacked, he has no choice but to leave his beloved Colorado mountains and fulfill his duty as Ron’s heir-at least until his uncle recovers. In the meantime, he intends to lure the attacker out… and make them pay.

When Ron gets wind of Sebastian’s plan to catch the attacker, he doesn’t like the idea of risking his heir. That’s where Jaxon Reedis comes in-he’ll balance protecting the dark and sexy werewolf with pretending to be his personal assistant. He’s walking a fine line that requires all his foxy wit and craftiness… and that’s on top of the inescapable feeling that he and Sebastian are meant for each other. When the attacker returns, will they be able to maintain their deepening bond when danger threatens to tear down everything they’re building?

The Wolf’s Man Friday (Nose to Tail Inc. #2), by Julia Talbot

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

I’ll start by saying I don’t normally review later books in a series after the first one, but this book stands by itself just fine. As a matter of fact, I think it’s even better than the first book (Wolfmanny) so if you’re going to start somewhere this is a good place to do it!

There is something about Talbot’s writing, and this series in particular, that really agrees with me. She creates smart, capable characters trying to make sense out of chaotic lives. The settings are (eventually) cozy, homey, and comfortable. It doesn’t hurt that the scenes in the sack are smokin’ hot, too!

As with the first book there’s little to no world-building here, except to establish that it’s a world like our own only shifters are all kinds are commonplace. Jaxon is a clever fox: intelligent, skilled not just in being a personal assistant but in various forms of defense. On top of all of this he has a bouncy eagerness that is utterly endearing. Sebastian is a guy who is forced into a role he doesn’t want but sees no way out of it. He becomes focused on finding his uncle’s attackers to the point of ignoring all of his day-to-day business responsibilities, but really? He’s an artistic sort who would be happier doing fabric design than managing textile suppliers.

The overarching mystery of who is attacking Ron and Sebastian is interesting and drives the plot, but the real joy here is the interactions of the characters. Jax and Seb are perfectly suited for each other and the heat generated between them is impressive! I loved the side characters as well: Alan, Seb’s packmate and impetuous sidekick; Tyrone, an elk shifter who is Seb’s driver but also his friend and defender; even characters with small roles are memorable, fun and at times snarky, which is always fun.

Talbot ties everything up neatly at the end and Jax and Seb get their happily ever after, but it’s quite a ride to get there. Um, in more ways than one. I described Wolfmanny as “not deep, but it’s the literary equivalent to curling up by the fireplace with hot chocolate and a warm cinnamon roll.” This is more of the same with a little more action thrown in. I liked this one a lot!

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: The Grizzly Rim Series, by Mia West

Launch the Hunt – 4.25 out of 5
Surrender the Chase – 4.5 out of 5
Embrace the Beast – 4.75 out of 5

What a grand ride this is! Mia West brings us Grizzly Rim, a remote village in Alaska populated by shifters of all varieties. In this world, shifters keep to themselves and are unknown to most of the population, though this fact has only small bearing on the plotlines here. The focus in these books is firmly on the characters: their worries and foibles, their hopes and failures.

It’s ironic to say this of men who turn into animals, but West has created remarkably human characters here. They are not all young, buff, and hung. Dmitri is pushing 40 and a little chubby. Mac is in his 30s and a big hairy bear of a guy (figuratively and literally). None of these guys are perfect, and that’s OK. A big part of the joy of these books is seeing these guys navigate their flaws and strong points to find out just how they fit together.

Some comments on the individual books:

Launch the Hunt

Bush pilot John Tillman never expected to raise his kid sister. As her graduation approaches, he can almost taste the freedom of the empty nest in his near future-to fly in his eagle form for days…walk around his house naked…maybe even bring a man into his bed for the first time in years. To save her college fund, John’s taking every run his plane can handle and doing his best to keep his shifting under the radar. Then his latest job walks into the local bar with a strange gait and velvety Southern drawl.

After three tours, two new legs, and one long-overdue divorce, the only thing Logan Maddox is counting on now is a distraction-free hunting trip with the son whose teen years he’s almost missed. Logan isn’t a hero, just a guy trying to readjust with new parameters. If he hasn’t quite put into practice the gay identity he’s finally accepted…well, it’s not top priority. But fate has its own tactics, and the only pilot available to ferry them looks like a recruitment ad for Alaska’s hottest unit, and arrives with a seventeen-year-old girl in tow.

This is a fun, light introduction to the series, and the shortest of the three. John is an out gay man (heterosexuality appears to be rare in Grizzly Rim, at least among the regulars at Mac’s bar). Logan is just coming to terms with being gay, on top of dealing with a teenage son and a life-changing disability. The interactions between John and Logan are fun to watch, and although the ending is predictable it’s still worth the wait.

Surrender the Chase

For wolf shifter Dmitri Sernov, life bites. His late-night hunts leave him winded, the twelfth rewrite of his novel is crap, and his last good lay was five drafts ago. He’s staring down forty with a creative well as empty as his bed. The last thing he needs is a beautiful, intimidating, obnoxious pup bent on exposing Dmitri’s underbelly… and everything else that’s gone soft.

Thierry Marrou has burned every bridge from Montreal to Juneau. Once a prospect for Canada’s Olympic hockey team, he’s just been kicked off a piddling local squad in Nowhere, Alaska. But one whiff of the silver wolf on the opposing bench was enough to confirm that the erotic dreams drawing Thierry across a continent have a very real-and very cranky-source.

Now we’re cooking! Dmitri can be a right grumpy bastard and Thierry is fiery and impulsive. Putting these two together is an inspired pairing. The repartee, the outbursts, and seeing the two adjust to one another make for a great read. West nails the banter between these two, and throws in some amusing meta-commentary on the writing process along the way. In the end, Thierry and Dmitri are a wonderful couple together.

Embrace the Beast

Nate Landry is living a whopper of a lie. He’s an otter shifter, that much is true. Folks say he’s the best river guide in the region, with an uncanny knack for finding the hottest fishing spots. And he has a good friend again, a guy he likes more than he probably should. Everything will be fine, as long as nobody-especially Mac-finds out he used to be Charlie Beauchamp, an elite Coast Guard rescue swimmer who failed to save the one person he loved most. Then the real Nate Landry shows up and drags Charlie’s grief and shame out of the depths.

McKinley Greer knows how to keep a secret. Like where a bear shifter might find the best honey trees. Or why he brews beer but doesn’t drink a drop of it. Or that most of his favorite porn features guys who look a helluva lot like his best friend. But suddenly Nate isn’t Nate-he’s a freaking hero named Charlie-and when he begins to share his own secrets, Mac knows it’s only a matter of time before all the things he’s stashed in the darkest den of his heart get hauled into the light.

Of the three couples here, these two were the most real to me. I know guys like these, and I can see how they would work together – and against each other. I liked seeing these two come to realize the love and attraction they shared. And the ending? Oh my goodness. You’re darned right I cried, it was so sweet.

Just a note that the bedroom door is wide-open in these books, so if steamy descriptions of guys doing sexy things freaks you out…what the hell are you doing reading this anyway? This is a great series, and I highly recommended it!

Fangs and Catnip (Dead and Breakfast #1), by Julia Talbot


Solitary vampire Fallon Underwood gets all the social interaction he needs being the silent partner at the Dead and Breakfast B and B high in the Colorado mountains. Change is hard for Fallon, so when his business partner, Tanner, suggests hiring a new manager for the inn, he’s adamant that they don’t need help, especially not in the form of bouncy werecat Carter Hughes.

Carter is a happy-go-lucky kitty, and he loves the hospitality industry, so the D and B ought to be a great place for him. He falls for Fallon as soon as he picks up one of Fallon’s novels and begins to woo the vamp with gifts. When Fallon finally succumbs to Carter’s feline charms, the results are unexpected, to say the least. Their mating will have irreversible consequences-for their bodies and their hearts.

Fangs and Catnip (Dead and Breakfast #1), by Julia Talbot

Rating: 4 out of 5

This book is another entry into Dreamspinner Press’ “Dreamspun Beyond” line, which I’ve seen described as “addictive paranormal fluff.” Yeah, that about sums it up. This doesn’t make it a bad thing, though! Sometimes you want something cozy and enjoyable, that leaves the angst at the door. This is something that Julia Talbot excels at, as I found in the previous book of hers I read and reviewed, Wolfmanny.

The world-building here is minimal, except that we learn that all manner of paranormal beasties, from weres to vampires to demons to gorgons, are rather commonplace. The action takes a B&B called Dead and Breakfast (fortunately the other puns are kept to a minimum), located in the Colorado mountains. Tanner and Fallon co-own the B&B. They are good friends but not lovers, although it is hinted that they may have tried something earlier but found they made better friends than lovers.

I found Carter to be simply adorable. He’s smart, industrious, and loves his job. His inner monologue cracked me up, too. Here he’s trying to contain his excitement during the job interview:

“Carter Hughes?” Tanner shook hands, warm and firm but not squeezy. “I’m Tanner Weiling.”

“Mr. Weiling, pleased to meet you.”

No bouncing.
None.
Zero.
Be the antibounce.

This is a lovely story of opposites attracting, and Fallon and Carter are very sweet together. Although there isn’t a whole lot of drama in the book, both show character growth through the story. This really helped me feel invested in them, and I teared up a few times reading this. And as an aside, Talbot writes some dang hot sex scenes!

I want to note also that the secondary characters here are just lovely, and really make me look forward to future books in the series: Tanner, an affable werebear; Tom, a werewolf with his own problems who still looks out for Carter; Jami, the erstwhile vampire night auditor. I love the idea of seeing any of these guys in the next book.

Fangs and Catnip is an enjoyable, cozy book with great characters. I recommend this one, particularly for curling up and reading on a cold winter night!

Book Review: Rescued (Guardsmen #1.5)/Parker’s Sanctuary (Guardsmen #2), by Cooper West

Greg Lademar is an ordinary and average Army veteran who has settled down with his job as an accountant and his lingering PTSD. He lives a quiet life as a single man, alone on the former blueberry farm he bought from his parents after they retired to Orlando. When a friend who works with animal control asks him to foster Parker, a severely injured dog who has just been rescued from an abusive home, the last thing Greg expects is to be dragged into the mysterious world of the Guardsmen – the bonded pairs of humans and their weredogs, known as Protectors, who are literally the stuff of myths and legends.

Greg’s life is turned upside down by unexpected events involving Parker and the strange Guardsmen pair Marcus and Alex Stephanek, but far more dangerous to him is the man who used to own Parker and holds a grudge for having “his” dog taken from him. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with more on the line than even Greg ever thought possible: his life, and the life of Parker, who has become more important to him than Greg ever imagined a rescue dog could be.

Rescued (Guardsmen #1.5)/Parker’s Sanctuary (Guardsmen #2), by Cooper West

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

This is what I was hoping for! I’m fascinated by the world of Guardsmen, Handlers, and Protectors that West has created, and while the first book (The Protector) didn’t live up to my expectations, this book did and then some!

I’m reviewing the free short story (“Rescued,” which serves as a prequel) together with the book (Parker’s Sanctuary) because in my opinion they really do need to be read together. While the short story is told by Parker, the book is told from Greg’s point of view and I think is a better book because of it.

There’s so many things here to like here. The world-building is great, of course. The characters are sympathetic and interesting. Greg has no idea what he’s getting into, though adapts well as he goes. Parker is shocked to find he’s a Protector (weredog) at an age far older than any Protector has ever manifested and struggles to adapt to new senses, feelings, and a rigid tradition where Protectors are second-class citizens whose lives are controlled by their Handlers. The latter aspect is something I found particularly interesting, and I love how West has built this into the book’s popular culture. I’m very impressed how the author has set up a world with a lot of possible narrative threads to follow. The occasional sex scenes are pretty damn hot, too!

The pacing of the story keeps things moving along at a brisk clip. The suspense builds nicely – the tension and wanting to see how it all worked out kept me up entirely too late reading! My only complaint is a small detail that was thrown in at the last minute that could have used more explanation, but the story did not suffer for it.

It would probably be best to read these in order (The Protector, “Rescued”, Parker’s Sanctuary), even if the first book drags a bit. The payoff in the second book is well worth it. I would recommend this series highly!

Book Review: The Protector (Guardsmen #1), by Cooper West

The Protector (Guardsmen #1), by Cooper West

Guardsmen are always matched in a bonded pair. The Protector can shift into a weredog, and the human partner is his Handler. They are incredibly rare and highly valued, but people also fear them for their mystical abilities. No Protector in living memory has outlived his Handler-until Alex Taylor.

Now a widower, Alex lives a lonely half-life and faces day after day of grief with no hope for happiness in the future. When he unexpectedly bonds with the young and vibrant Handler Marcus Stephanek, Alex is angry and unwilling to leave the memory of his former Handler behind. He pushes Marcus away and tries to distance himself from their bond. But then a mysterious villain who has been secretly shadowing Alex for years sets his plan in motion. Alex and Marcus must learn to trust their bond and love each other, or risk not only their own lives but the lives of those closest to them.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

This review pains me because I wanted to like this book SO MUCH. I loved the world-building and the characters were initially interesting. Unfortunately, as the book went on the main characters each came to be identified by a single trait: Marcus trained to be a Search-and-Rescue handler all his life and is disappointed that may not come to pass, and Alex is mourning his late husband. There is not much character development beyond this.

I come to this book with a unique perspective, having lost my husband of 18 years suddenly in the spring of 2017. I know and understand grieving. I also know that everyone grieves at their own pace in their own way. That said, there is something deeply wrong here. If Alex is under such close scrutiny by the Guardsmen organization, they are going to see that isolating himself and mourning for three years is not healthy and would hopefully do something about it. I’ll at least accept the change in attitude toward Marcus due to the bond between Handler and Protector.

That concern aside, the other problem I had with this book was its awkward pacing. 70% of the book was very little going on, mainly watching Alex and Marcus wallowing in their respective misery. Suddenly at that point there’s a huge plot development momentous enough to merit its own book, but that is swept aside. Stupid decisions and actions follow, making the ending rather frustrating even though all of the plotlines are wrapped up neatly. I even liked how everything ended, but I just wasn’t satisfied with how we got there.

Would I say this is worth the read? I think so because there is a framework of a great series here. Just be prepared to be occasionally frustrated by the characters.

 

Book Review: Finder’s Keeper, by Shira Anthony

When Zane moves into an old gothic brownstone, he discovers the house comes equipped with a caretaker-Kit, who lives in the basement. Zane is immediately drawn to the charming and attractive Kit. But Kit is much more than he seems. He is a two-hundred-year-old half-human, half-red-fox spirit who guards a Gate between the mortal and spirit worlds-a fact Zane should recognize, but doesn’t.

Orphaned at a young age, Zane never learned he comes from a long line of mystical Keepers. Kit needs Zane’s help to protect the Gate, but how can he tell Zane of his legacy when that will crush Zane’s dreams of traveling the world? If he takes up the mantle, Zane will be bound to the Gate, unable to leave it. But when Zane realizes Kit’s true nature, and his own, he’ll have to make a choice-fight to protect Kit and the Gate, or deny his destiny and any chance of a future with Kit.

Finder’s Keeper, by Shira Anthony (Heart’s Gate #1)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

BRB, swooning.

Kit is so freakin’ adorable! He is caring and kind, and quite the hottie as well. Zane is a keeper (heh) too – smart, funny, and humble. I adored these two together, and the sense of wonder from Zane was thoroughly charming. His thoughtfulness toward Kit made me smile, and Kit’s awkwardness in accepting this new-to-him consideration is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

The author does a fantastic job of bringing in some wonderful plot elements that I haven’t often seen in paranormal romances. Her descriptions of the nature of the spirit world and its effect on the human world really made this book something special. The guardian/keeper dynamic is an interesting one as well, and fun to explore.

I do have a few minor complaints, especially some plot developments late in the book that don’t have time to be fully explored or explained enough for my liking. Also, there are a few errors in the editing where the terms “Guardian” and “Keeper” are swapped that made things confusing until I figured out what was intended. These characters are so great I’m happy to overlook these things, though.

This is a great book that brings some welcome novelty to the genre. I recommend it highly.

Book Review: A Bear Walks Into a Bar, by Eden Winters

A Bear Walks Into a Bar, by Eden Winters

It takes one strong alpha with a tight grip to keep a mountain full of shifters under control. Sawyer Ballantine’s contending with an uppity wolf leader and a herd of shifter elk bound and determined to take over. He might be the lone bear on the mountain, but he’s not going to allow another four shifters to just move in, especially not when they whiff of power. They’ll either be his in all ways, or they’ll be gone.

Dillon, Jerry, Kevin, and Brad have no one but each other since their groups kicked them out. The young bear, wolves, and fox make a merry ménage, pooling their meager skills and serving beer. They’ve stumbled into more than they understand, caught in the dispute between the Urso of Ballantine Mountain and the elk. But winter’s setting in, and they don’t know how to keep Dillon safe for hibernation.

And then a bear walks into their bar.

So, I want to start with a couple of prefatory notes. First, I had previously read Eden Winters’ Naked Tails (reviewed here) and I thought it was quite an enjoyable read. Not perfect, but worth the time. That’s what led me to this book. Second, it is a fact in the m/m romance genre that explicit descriptions of guys getting it on are included in the price of admission. I’d feel worse about not making a bigger deal about it in my reviews but having sat through/read countless depictions of heterosexual intercourse in my life, I figure y’all can deal with a couple of scenes of guys screwing.

And then we have this book. I found it entertaining, if nothing else. I have to imagine the author listing the characters and then calculating all of the possible permutations. And most every permutation is covered here, too!

In the world of A Bear Walks Into a Bar, shifters are a secret from the rest of modern society. It appears that shifters are all variety of mammals – bears, wolves, elk, cougars, rabbits, and more. The shifters are tribal within their species and all look upon one another with suspicion. Sawyer is the bear in charge of them all and has to deal with the different factions. So that sets up the plot, and indeed covers most of the plot in the book.

What fills the rest? Pure, unadulterated smut. Which is just fine by me, but it doesn’t make for a particularly deep reading experience. To be clear, the book is literally 75% sex scenes and 25% plot. The characters are fun, though, and the situations are damn hot. Dillon is adorable, a shy caregiver type. Sawyer is the big gruff alpha who is learning that maybe he doesn’t have to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. And then there’s Brad, the fox shifter. He’s cute, he’s insecure, and if he doesn’t have at least one orifice filled he’s probably asleep. (Furries may nod knowingly here.)

On the basis of content I’d give this a 3 out of 5, but for entertainment value I’d give it a 5. Let’s take an average and call it a rating of 4 out of 5. Enjoy!

Book Review: Just Like Cats and Dogs, by B.A. Tortuga

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Just Like Cats and Dogs, by B.A. Tortuga (Sanctuary #1)

If there’s one thing Sam knows for sure it’s that you can never go home again. As a feline shifter who grew up in a family of wolves, he’s used to being a freak. He stays in the city and tries to get his family to visit him, but when a loved one passes away, Sam has to go back to  the New Mexico desert for a last goodbye.

Gus only comes back to the pack at gathering time, once in a blue moon. He’s usually a  wanderer, but he’s with the pack when Sam comes home. Gus and Sam have never gotten  along, but this time around Gus is surprised by the attraction he feels for this new, slinky version of his high school nemesis.

Sam and Gus may not be able to resist each other, but finding time to be together and  overcome their differences might be too much for them, especially when danger lurks just around the corner, and all around the world. Can cats and dogs live to learn together, or are Gus and Sam destined to fail?

Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a fun, goofy story that didn’t take itself too seriously. I can definitely appreciate that  and it made it a very entertaining read! This falls into the enemies-to-lovers trope and while that can be get really clunky Tortuga pulls it off well here. Gus is a bit of a lunkhead who’s not very good at expressing his feelings. Sam is a bit of a prissy queen but he has had to deal with enough adversity that he has extraordinary strength of character, and is more than a match for Gus. The author relies heavily on animal stereotypes (dogs are loyal, cats are standoffish) but you’re reading a story about people who turn into animals so I think at some point you need to set aside certain complaints.

The plot turns can get a bit silly as the action bounces from New Mexico to New York to Afghanistan (!) and back again, but the slowly-developing relationship is fun to see, and I’m a complete sucker for two guys who care for each other and especially for those around them as well. It also doesn’t hurt that the sex scenes are pretty smokin’! This is the first book in the Sanctuary series, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, What the Cat Dragged In, which comes out in a few weeks.

Note that this book is actually a 160-page novel and a 40-page short story combined. I had no issue with this, though I was surprised when the story suddenly ended 80% through the book! The short story is fun though, and sets up the next book nicely. Overall, this is a light, fun read that I would recommend.

Book Review: Boots, by Angel Martinez

 

Boots, by Angel Martinez

Willem’s lost his job and his boyfriend, and now possibly his mind when his cat calls him a nitwit.

Willem’s father never approved of his artistic talents, his choices in life, or the fact that he’s gay. When the only thing Horst leaves to Willem is the family cat, he thinks it’s his father’s last insult from the grave. That is, until the cat starts talking to him.

Though Willem’s lost his boyfriend, his home, and his job, Kasha, who claims to be a magic cat, reassures him that all will be well. All he needs is Willem’s trust and a good pair of boots. But giving boots to a talking cat has unexpected consequences when odd events ambush Willem at every turn, such as the appearance of a handsome stranger in his arms at night. While he begins to suspect Kasha’s plans might be dangerous for all involved, how can he distrust such a charming kitty in cowboy boots?

Rating: 4 out of 5

This novella is a fun, breezy retelling of the venerable Puss in Boots story, with a gay twist. I went into the story knowing of the story, but not really familiar with the details. This probably helped me enjoy the story more, but I could tell when the more traditional story elements were updated for the story, usually in a humorously meta way (the evil ogre is a lawyer AND an investment banker!).

Aside from the two main characters, Willem and Kasha, the other characters in the story are loosely sketched. The romance between Willem and Kasha is cute, though the dreaded insta-love comes out of nowhere. To be fair Kasha has had decades of admiring Willem while a cat so he knew what to expect. Willem, not so much, but I’m willing to roll with it. The cat’s machinations to better the life of his master make for an engaging read, and the author wraps up the story neatly with an adorable ending.

Martinez’ writing is enjoyable, and she does a good job telling the story economically in the short 113 pages. The bedroom door is wide open here, and the intimate scenes are quite steamy (and amusing. One word: spines. Ow). I’ll definitely be seeking out Martinez’ other work!
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Book Review: Wolfmanny, by Julie Talbot

 

Wolfmanny, by Julie Talbot

Three hot werewolves, sexual tension thick enough to cut with a knife, an impending Colorado winter, and a rambunctious pack of werewolf pups. Stand back and watch the fur fly.

When Kenneth Marcon loses his nanny to a bite from one of his inherited kids, he knows he needs someone strong to contain five werewolf children. What he finds isn’t a stalwart nanny, but a werewolf manny named Jack. Kenneth and his assistant, Miles, aren’t sure if Jack is what they need, but he’s what they have to work with.

Jack’s got what it takes to keep the kids busy-and attract both Miles’s and Kenneth’s attention. The two old friends have been circling each other for years, but with Jack as the final piece to the puzzle, it’s time to finally act on those urges. When Kenneth is forced to travel instead of solidifying the bond with his new mates, Jack and Miles take desperate measures to get him back, even as they save the kids from one disaster after another. Amidst the chaos, they have to learn how to become not just a pack, but a family.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

This book was far more entertaining than it has any right to be. The world-building is sketchy (we know there are werewolves and shifters of other species), the dramatic conflict is low, we have insta-mates (“I have just met you and I know that we are destined for each other!”) and really not much of any import happens. And yet – the characters are very sweet, the domesticity is comforting, and the ménage à trois is hotter than heck!

Jack is a former soldier of some type now an employee of Nose to Tail, Inc., a company of various types of shifters that you hire to get things done when they must get done. This isn’t his first “manny” (male nanny) job, but it may be his most complicated, dealing with a teenager, two tweens, and two toddlers/cubs. The father, Kenneth, is a multimillion-dollar business mogul trying to find time for his family and his business. Miles, Kenneth’s second-in-command, has been devoted to Kenneth all his life with no hint of romance and is swept up into the threesome with a gratified astonishment that is simply adorable.

Almost the entire book takes place at the family’s isolated Colorado home. Scenes typically devolve into a frenzied display of Jack juggling the kids’ needs and working with the multitudinous house staff to make the whole thing run. To be honest, the way it was written appealed to the logistics geek in me, which is probably another reason I enjoyed this book so much! The scenes in bed are well-written and aside from being damned sexy also make me smile to see three men so genuinely happy together.

Talbot’s writing flows well, and while the books pacing got a little slow at times, it was still a fun read. The fact that these characters are shifters is more incidental to the story than anything, but it does add some interesting touches. I would hope that future installments in the Nose to Tail, Inc. series up the dramatic tension a bit, but I suspect I will happily read them even if they don’t.

(I made it through the entire review without commenting on the book’s title. Just…yeah. It’s an awful pun and let’s leave it at that!)

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Book Review/Appreciation: The “Infected” Series, by Andrea Speed

 

Infected: Prey, Bloodlines, Life After Death, Freefall, Shift, Lesser Evils, Undertow, Epitaph, by Andrea Speed

How do you review an eight-book series? Normally I’m not sure I’d even attempt it, but given that I would rate every book in the series 5 out of 5, I think that this merits mentioning. I have reviewed the first three (and a half) books in the series here and here. I am so pleased to say that the series continues from there to be a wonderful read.

To recap from an earlier review:

In the 1960’s a virus was loosed that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. A vaccine was created, but the vaccine had…side effects. For those “infected” with the virus, five days out of every month they transform into a feral feline – cougar, lion, leopard, panther, or tiger. This is not a neat transformation, either:  it can take an hour or more, and is excruciatingly painful as all of the bones break, the body is re-formed, and mass is redistributed. The bigger the feline, the greater the toll it takes on the body, so while there are many cougars, tigers have a diminishingly short lifespan.

Roan McKichan is an oddity. Where almost all other infecteds caught the virus later in life, he was born with the virus and somehow lived when all other virus children usually die shortly after birth. A former cop and now a private detective, he is coming to an understanding with the lion inside him and becoming something the world has never seen before.

While these books are technically mysteries (or at the very least private detective cases), those are peripheral to what really matters. Each book is comprised of two novellas, typically one following chronologically after the other. Each novella has 2-3 cases of varying degrees of interest and involvement. The important thing here though is the characters and how they live their lives.

Roan is the star of the show, and is truly a larger-than-life character. The overarching story is of him coming to terms with his lion, and the damage done to himself as he calls on the lion to do what he believes is right. He can be cranky, misanthropic, sarcastic, and funny as hell. At the same time, though, we see him dealing with deep depression and wondering if the fight to just keep living is even worth it. He’s complex, complicated, and fascinating.

Roan alone would be the basis of a couple of good books. However, Speed has created a setting with a lot of possibilities, and populated it with a remarkable cast of characters. After Roan, Holden is the next biggest player. He’s a former whore with no illusions about the world or himself. Amoral is just a start, and he is not above a little vigilantism on the side when called for. At the same time he has a vulnerability that he hides from everyone except a sometimes-boyfriend who slows chips his way into Holden’s heart.

Other characters are incredibly entertaining, like the Seattle Falcons, a minor-league hockey team who befriends Roan: Handsome, closeted team captain Scott, the paradoxically gentle enforcer Grey, and the manic goalie Tank. They make a weird addition for Roan’s little family and yet it all fits together somehow. Add in oddballs like Fiona, Roan’s receptionist who is also a part-time dominatrix, and Dee, Roan’s ex-boyfriend and EMT who spends far too much time putting Roan back together, and you’ve got quite a collection.

So having reviewed the earlier books, why do I feel like I need to write more about the series? I think more than anything reading the series as a whole is an incredibly satisfying experience. You spend a lot of time with these people and you start to know them well – how they tick, why they act like they do. You want to know what is happening in their lives, and what will happen next. Speed’s writing is at its best here, keeping up a driving pace that still gives the reader time to consider the character’s thoughts and emotions. It has been a long time since I became as invested in a set of books like this, and I hope you take the time to check them out as well!
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Book Review – Infected: Life After Death, by Andrea Speed

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Infected: Life After Death (Infected Book 3), by Andrea Speed ( @notmanos)

In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.

But when your heart is gone, it’s easy to fall into a black hole and never crawl out. Roan has been lost and alone for more than a year, and his best friends think a new case might be just the motivation he needs. Roan forces himself back into the game and discovers a dead man who might not be all that dead, a street hustler that wants to hustle him, and a dominatrix who is well prepared to take Roan’s orders. As Roan claws his way out of the darkness by diving back into his work, he finds himself in a race against time in the adrenaline-pumping realization that nothing helps a person want to live like helping someone else survive.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Normally I refrain from reviewing later books in a series since they don’t have a lot of context to readers who haven’t read the earlier books. I think that this review is necessary for me if only to document that after the emotionally draining end of Infected: Bloodlines, the story still carries on, and is definitely worth continuing.

As with Prey, Life After Death is two novellas sandwiched together. The first is by far more affecting. As Paris predicted, Roan took a long time to recover from his death (is this a spoiler? I suppose the title is a spoiler so…). Speed captures the depression that follows painfully accurately.

Roan idly wondered if he cared about anything and decided that no, he probably didn’t. Should that bother him? Again, he didn’t care.

We follow Roan as he slowly digs himself out of the worst depths, although he by no means fully recovers. His discussions with an imaginary Paris who haunts his hallucinations are touching and show a tender side that Roan tries so hard to hide.

“The pain is supposed to fade, right? Why isn’t it? I still miss you so much I can barely stand it. I keep expecting to see you every time I open the office door.”

Paris wrapped his arms around him and gave him a squeeze that he could almost feel. “Oh sweetie, it doesn’t fade. No one should know better than an infected that pain doesn’t ever really fade-you just get used to it.”

We do get back into the swing of his life, though, as he begins to reach out and populate his world again with those who care about him. As he takes on new cases and slowly comes up for air, we continue to learn more about Roan, his lion, and the world around him.

The second novella is somewhat less successful, if only because it’s almost more of an extended slice-of-life story. Over the course of the novella Roan takes and completes several cases, and the ending seems rushed. Even so the journey is worth it, because Speed makes spending time in Roan’s world with his friends and his enemies enjoyable. Recommended.

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Book Review: Infected: Paris, Prey, Bloodlines by Andrea Speed

Infected: Paris (Infected Book 0.5) by Andrea Speed

Infected: Prey (Infected Book 1) by Andrea Speed

Infected: Bloodlines (Infected Book 2) by Andrea Speed

Rating: 5 out of 5 for the series (so far)

In the 1960’s a virus was loosed that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. A vaccine was created, but the vaccine had…side effects. For those “infected” with the virus, five days out of every month they transform into a feral feline – cougar, lion, leopard, panther, or tiger. This is not a neat transformation, either:  it can take an hour or more, and is excruciatingly painful as all of the bones break, the body is re-formed, and mass is redistributed. The bigger the feline, the greater the toll it takes on the body, so while there are many cougars, tigers have a diminishingly short lifespan.

Roan McKichan is an oddity. Where almost all other infecteds caught the virus later in life, he was born with the virus and somehow lived when all other virus children usually die shortly after birth. A former cop and now a private detective, he is coming to an understanding with the lion inside him and becoming something the world has never seen before.

To say these books blew me away would be an understatement. Andrea Speed has created a world that is mesmerizing, and populated by unforgettable characters. Roan, first and foremost, is an utter smartass to anyone and everyone, with a history that explains why he must put up a tough-guy image to shelter his more caring and thoughtful self.

His boyfriend Paris, a tiger strain, is wonderful as well. He is cheerfully manipulative, taking advantage of his good looks and charisma any way that he can. Now, though, he has turned his life around and is, as they say, using his powers for good. The banter between these two is a joy to read, as they fall in love and quickly establish a cozy relationship both at work and at home. The side characters can be a little stereotypical (Roan’s gruff cop friend for instance), but that is easily overlooked.

I read these books slightly out of order (Prey, Paris, Bloodlines) and I think that that is probably a good way to do it. Prey is actually two novellas put together, though they complement each other well. It is a great introduction to the world of Infected, and the reader quickly gets a feel for the flow Speed’s writing. If I had one complaint it would be the sudden changes in point of view in the narration, jumping from Roan to Paris and back (and in one chapter to a tertiary character altogether!).

Paris is a prequel to Prey, showing how Paris and Roan met and fell in love. It provides great backstory for the two, and really allows you to become invested in the characters. The downside to this is when you get to Bloodlines. Here, the tiger strain is catching up to Paris, and even as Roan tries to maintain normalcy and carry on their lives, there is no denying that Paris is dying. I won’t kid you – there is no happy ending here. Even so, it’s some of the most powerful writing I’ve come across lately. Yes, I was a weeping mess, and yet the trip was utterly worth it.

I take heart that this is just the start to the Infected series. There are six more books, plus various novellas and short stories. Normally I would look at such a sprawling series in askance and wonder if the author is diluting the stories as they go, but from what I have read I have every faith that all of these will be excellent and enjoyable reads.

Finally, one last note: Although I came by these books through the M/M Romance genre, they are so much more than that. This is Urban Fantasy where the characters happen to be gay and have gay relationships. The bedroom door is closed in this series, which is to say that any sexytime takes place off-page. If the idea of romances has ever put anyone off, this is a great place to start to see what you’ve been missing!

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Book Review: Naked Tails, by Eden Winters

Naked Tails, by Eden Winters

Seth McDaniel wasn’t raised among a shifter passel and has no idea what it’s like to turn furry once a month. An orphan, torn from his father’s family at an early age, he scarcely remembers Great-aunt Irene. Now her passing brings him back to Possum Kingdom, Georgia, to take up a legacy he doesn’t understand and reconnect with a friend he’s never forgotten.

As Irene’s second-in-command, Dustin Livingston has two choices: assume control of the passel or select another replacement. Unfortunately, the other candidates are either heartless or clueless. Dustin’s best hope to dodge the responsibility is to deliver a crash course in leadership to his childhood pal Seth, a man he hasn’t seen in twenty years. However, while Dustin’s mind is set on his task, his heart is set on his old friend.

Seth’s quest for answers yields more questions instead. What’s with the tiny gray hairs littering his aunt’s house? Why do the townsfolk call each other “Jack” and “Jill”? Do Dustin’s attentions come with ulterior motives? And why is Seth suddenly craving crickets?

Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a fun, goofy read that was way better than I expected it to be! Offbeat shifter books don’t usually do it for me, but this looked interesting, plus it takes place not too far from where I grew up so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Eden Winters does a nice job evoking the area and the people of North Georgia where “Possum Kingdom” (not too far from the real town of Clayton) exists. Seth has been away in the city environment of Chicago for so long he’s forgotten his country roots (the fact that I live near Chicago now is pure coincidence but probably added to my affinity for the book!). Going back to the red clay of his youth leaves him absolutely out of his element, but he learns to adapt. I liked Seth and really sympathized with his confusion and reluctance to stay in Possum Kingdom. Dustin was a little more difficult to read and I would have liked to see more of him in the story, but it makes sense why he was not. Monica, Dustin’s second in command, was a hoot! I’ve met Southern women like her and I can definitely say there are plenty of grounds in reality for her character.

The plot to the book isn’t anything particularly special. Stranger comes in and must assume command, learn about his heritage and the local society, and train to fight like a possum (as one does). The latter part of the story seemed a bit rushed after the relaxed, enjoyable setup, and that’s the main reason I rate this a 4 out of 5. I would have liked to see things drawn out a bit more and have more time to explore Seth and Dustin’s time together, reconnecting from their youth.

I quite enjoyed Naked Tails, and look forward to exploring more of Winters’ back catalog!

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Book Reviews: Howl at the Moon series, by Eli Easton

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How to Howl at the Moon, by Eli Easton (Howl at the Moon #1)
How to Walk Like a Man, by Eli Easton (Howl at the Moon #2)

First off, a few things about me: I’m a gay man who enjoys well-written gay romance novels. I am a complete sucker for courtship stories. Finally, I’m a fan of anthropomorphic fiction and art (colloquially, a furry fan).

All of these things combine to make me the target demographic for these books (though the latter is not a requirement – if you enjoy fantasy fiction, this will be up your alley as well).

Eli Easton has created the tiny town of Mad Creek, California. It’s a secluded hamlet on the edge of Yosemite National Park, that is hidden for a reason. We all know of werewolves, however Easton introduces us to the quickened, people who are part human, part dog. Dogs of all breeds, and the breed has a strong influence on the person’s personality. They appear human, but can take on canine form at will. The trait is passed down genetically, though when a dog forms a very close bond with a human, they can become quickened as well. The residents of Mad Creek are almost all quickened, or are their human allies. The need for the town to keep the existence of the quickened a secret is the driving force behind these stories.

The plotting of these books is not going to break any new ground, but not every story is required to do so. What really sets these apart is the writing and the characters. Easton really gives a good feel for the mountains and forests around Mad Creek (particularly in How to Walk Like a Man), and writes in such a way that it’s easy to feel you are present in the story. Additionally, the courtships in the books, willing and not, intentional and not, are incredibly sweet and romantic.

The characters, though, are the best part. Sheriff Lance Beaufort, the unofficial protector of Mad Creek, comes from a family of border collies, and it shows in his intensity and protectiveness of his pack. Tim Weston, is a human seeking a safe place in the mountains after his life has crashed down around him. Deputy Roman Charsguard, a German shepherd quickened only two years prior, is naive in human ways but grateful to have a place in the world. That naivete could easily have been overplayed, but Roman’s confusion and dogged (heh) determination to understand human behavior make it easy to sympathize with his plight. All of these characters are engaging, relatable, and fun. You want to know what happens to them, and you genuinely cheer for them.

If I had any complaint, it’s that the “conflict” (as every story has to have a conflict, Chekov’s gun sitting on the mantel) that is a thread in these books, illicit marijuana farmers, seems sort of low-stakes. This is a minor gripe, though, because of the rest of the stories are so enjoyable.

Finally, there is the caveat that if you are offended by explicit descriptions of sexual activities between male adults, you may wish to look elsewhere. They are a small part of the overall books, but they are present. If you happen to like that sort of thing (I’m not complaining…) then it’s icing on a very wonderful cake. Ms. Easton has said that she is working on the third book in the Mad Creek series. I eagerly await it and will certainly buy it the moment it becomes available.

4.5 stars out of 5!