Monthly Archives: September 2017

Book Review: Off the Beaten Path, by Cari Z.

When Ward Johannsen’s little girl Ava shifted into a werewolf, she was taken into custody by the feds and shipped off to the nearest pack, all ties between father and daughter severed. Ward burned every bridge he had discovering her location, and then almost froze to death in the Colorado mountains tracking her new pack down. And that’s just the beginning of his struggle.

Henry Dormer is an alpha werewolf and an elite black ops soldier who failed his last mission. He returns home, hoping for some time to recuperate and help settle the pack’s newest member, a little pup named Ava who can’t shift back to her human form. Instead he meets Ward, who refuses to leave his daughter without a fight. The two men are as different as night and day, but their respect for each other strikes a spark of mutual interest that quickly grows into a flame. They might find something special together-love, passion, and even a family-if they can survive trigger-happy pack guardians, violent werewolf politics, and meddling government agencies that are just as likely to get their alpha soldiers killed as bring them home safely.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

First, the good: the author has created a fantastic setting with built-in dramatic tension. In this world, werewolves are not a secret to humans. The (United States) government has classified them as a dangerous subspecies and keeps them in strictly-controlled, isolated camps, cut off from human contact and wholly reliant on the government for their food, clothing, and every aspect of their lives. In “exchange” for this support, every pack alpha is required to be part of the military. Specifically, they are called in for the nasty jobs: assassinations, difficult extractions, and various black ops duties. The mental toll that this takes is an important part of this story.

Ward and Henry are really great characters, and it is easy to empathize with both of them. The lengths which Ward will go to be with and help Ava are wonderful. This is balanced by Henry’s duty to his pack, his own concern for Ava, and his weariness and shell-shock from the terrible missions he must undertake. There is a hint of the “true mate” trope, but it’s not explicit. The way the characters are written that’s OK for me. They fit together well.

Now the not-so-good: It’s one thing to surprise the reader with plot twists that confound their guesses of where the story will go. It’s another thing to put three or four of Chekhov’s guns on the mantle in the first act and then just…leave them there, untouched. This makes the overall story feel incomplete. This is surprising given that, per this post, the author’s original intent was for this book to be a one-off. On the bright side it sounds like that decision will be reconsidered (eventually). When that time comes I will gladly pick up the next book, both because I love the setting and because the potential main characters are quite interesting themselves.

Is Off the Beaten Path is worth reading? I would say yes, if only because even with these complaints I really did enjoy the story.

 

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: Out of the Ashes, by Ari McKay

Alpha werewolf Eli Hammond returns from a fishing trip to discover a nasty surprise-five members of his pack murdered and the rest missing. He needs help locating and rescuing his pack mates, but the supernatural council in Asheville, North Carolina, turns him away.

Except for one man.

As they work together, Eli is stunned-and not especially thrilled-to discover half-elf Arden Gilmarin is his destined mate. But as Arden and his friends struggle to help Eli in his quest, Eli surrenders to the demands of his body-and his heart. They’ll need to bond together, because the forces opposing them are stronger and more sinister than anyone predicted. The evil has its sights set on Arden, and if Eli wants to save his mate and the people he is entrusted with protecting, he’s in for the fight of his life.

Out of the Ashes, by Ari McKay (Asheville Arcana #1)

Rating: 4 out of 5

Paranormal elements aside, this is your basic good ol’ boy meets sophisticated citified guy. The typical werewolf trope of “fated mates” brings them together but what can I say? I’m a sucker for that (also, the Dreamspun Beyond line is designed to be somewhat trope-tastic, so it’s to be expected). Also, I totally want Arden’s house, but that’s beside the point.

The narrative point of view switches back and forth between Eli and Arden so we get a good feel for both characters. Both are caring, hardworking men and they make a great couple. The side characters are great as well; Arden’s friends-with-benefits Whimsy (a wizard) and Julian (a vampire) play a big role. I am guessing they will be the protagonists for the next two books.

The plot keeps the suspense up, although there a few “What the heck are you doing?” moments and at times the pacing seemed a bit off. There’s also a couple of unanswered questions, though perhaps they are threads to be addressed in future stories. The story is engaging enough that I enjoyed it, though.

Finally: I grew up in Upstate South Carolina so Asheville, North Carolina and Clayton, Georgia are part of my old stomping grounds. I admit that I went into this with a critical eye, but McKay did a nice job of getting a feel for the area, with an appropriate number of references to local landmarks. I could even imagine exactly where some of the fictional places in the book could be located.

I’d recommend this one, and can’t wait to see more in the series!

Book Review: Stalking Buffalo Bill, by j. leigh bailey


A buffalo walks into a cafe. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but for coyote shifter Donnie Granger, it’s the beginning of an obsession. Donnie is a little hyperactive and a lot distractible, except when it comes to William. He finally works up the nerve to approach William but is interrupted by a couple of violent humans.

While William—don’t call me Bill—is currently a professor, he once worked undercover against an international weapons-trafficking ring. Before he can settle into obscurity, he must find out who leaked his location and eliminate the thugs. He tries keeping his distance to protect Donnie, but the wily coyote won’t stay away.

It’ll take both Donnie’s skills as a stalker—er, hunter—and William’s super-spy expertise to neutralize the threat so they can discover if an excitable coyote and a placid-until-pissed buffalo have a future together.

Stalking Buffalo Bill, by j. leigh bailey

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

This was the first book from Dreamspinner Press’ “Dreamspun Beyond” line that I’ve read. This line promises paranormal romances with relatively low angst, with a focus more on the characters’ emotions and sensual tension. In short, this is pretty much targeted directly to me!

This is such a fun story! The setting alone, a shifter-friendly university in Cody, Wyoming in a world where humans are unaware shifters exist, creates all kinds of possibilities. This is kind of obvious given that the book is labeled “Shifter U. #1” and I look forward to seeing more.

Donnie is such a lovable goofball. He’s smart, funny, and impulsive – every bit the coyote. He’s a perfect foil for William, a stoic and taciturn professorial-type. The sparks between the two of them are so fun to read as they waver between “I can’t keep away from you!” and “You annoy the crap out of me!” I really enjoyed seeing the relationship evolve between the two. I think it’s a great endorsement that I was invested enough in Donnie and William that I was in tears as they reached their Happily Ever After (Spoiler? Not likely!). They really are a sweet couple. The side characters are quite entertaining too, even if most of them have little time on the page. Donnie’s best friend Ford stands out, not only as a smart and pragmatic guy, but also an intriguing type of shifter. I would guess we’ll be seeing more of Ford in the next book in this series.

The one place where the plot breaks down a bit is the international espionage element. It just seemed a little over the top. It’s well-written and keeps things moving along well enough that it’s a minor annoyance, though.

I’ll give this one 4.25 out of 5. I eagerly await the next book in the series!