Category Archives: m/m romance

Review Roundup 1!

After too long away from writing these reviews, I wanted to do a quick roundup of what I’ve been reading (and listening) to lately. First, some audiobooks:

SPECTR Series 1, by Jordan L. Hawk, narrated by Brad Langer – I just loved the premise of this series of novellas: Regular guy Sean dies (briefly) in an accident and is possessed by a powerful spirit. When he is revived through CPR he finds that he’s not alone in his own head. This could get a little silly, but Hawk has a deft touch with the characters and creates a lovely romance between Sean and the government agent…and the spirit.

I haven’t come across this approach to a book series before but think of it like a season of a television show: an individual plot line for each “episode” (novella) with an overarching plot across the books. It works well here! Langer’s northeastern-US accent (somewhere between NYC and Boston, to my ear) is a little incongruous for stories set in and around Charleston, South Carolina, but once I got used to it I found he did a fine job. Now to move on to Series 2…

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Tyack & Frayne, Books 1-3 (Once Upon a Haunted Moor, Tinsel Fish, Don’t Let Go), by Harper Fox, narrated by Tim Gilbert – My goodness, does Harper Fox know how to set a mood! These books (the first three of a nine-book series) take place in Cornwall, and Fox paints a picture of a countryside sometimes delightfully alive, but sometimes oppressively dreary. Here we have Gideon, a steadfast police officer disinclined to believe in the paranormal, and Lee, a psychic who proves Gideon wrong. The attraction between these two characters is lovely, and they make a great couple. These are mystery/suspense books, and while they were engaging at times I felt there were some narrative threads that got dropped along the way or needed more explanation.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Werewolves of Manhattan, Books 1 and 2 (His Omega, Remy’s Painter), by A. C. Katt, narrated by Joel Leslie – Don’t. Just don’t. Friends don’t let friends read bad werewolf smut. I mean, unless you’re into characters who are at times cartoonish, world-building that is not internally consistent, and guys who call their boyfriend “Baby” a lot. The only redeeming features of these are that I downloaded them for “free” as part of Audible’s Escape package (think Kindle Unlimited but for romance audiobooks), and Joel Leslie, who is always an excellent performer. If you have to pay for these, I suggest using that money for better things, like a pack of gum or something.

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Alpha & Omega, Books 1-5, by Patricia Briggs, narrated by Holter Graham – Wow, these were a whole lot of fun! I thoroughly enjoyed the 12 (!) Mercy Thompson novels by Briggs. It was fascinating to see the different narrative approaches she took in this series, set in the same world and overlapping at times, but mainly only in the sense they are on the same timeline. It was fun to see some small events which were alluded to in the MT books get a fuller explanation in this series. I really liked Anna and Charles, though Charles could be a bit opaque at times; that’s the nature of the character though so it makes sense. I enjoyed Anna’s sense of wonder in the beginning of the series, and how that colored her outlook as the series went on. The plotting on these can be intricate, and Briggs excels at populating her world with delightful characters and clear motivations (even if those motivations don’t become apparent until the end of the story). I highly recommend this series even if you haven’t read the Mercy Thompson books. They’re urban fantasy at its finest.

Rating: 5.0/5.0

How to Run with the Wolves, by Eli Easton – This is book 5 of the “Howl at the Moon” series by Easton, a delightful world where there are the Quickened, humans who can shift into dogs and have created their own isolated town, Mad Creek, in the mountains of California. I highly recommend the first four books in the series (I have previously reviewed the first two books). This is a great addition to the series. This posits that maybe the shifters of Mad Creek aren’t alone, as we find an isolated clan of dog shifters in the remote wilds of Alaska. These Quickened (“Qimmig”) are descended from Inuit sled dogs. Timo, an emissary of their clan, visits Mad Creek and struggles to understand a culture radically different from his own. In addition, there’s this very sweet St. Bernard shifter who he is starting to have very confusing feelings toward. This is something of a minefield for Easton as there are issues of coping with class differences and of understanding wildly different cultures. I think she navigates them well while still maintaining the lighthearted touch of the previous books. There’s a nice surprise in an author’s note at the end of the book, but I won’t spoil that for anyone!

Rating: 4.5/5.0

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: Change of Heart, by Mary Calmes

Change of Heart by Mary Calmes

As a young gay man-and a werepanther-all Jin Rayne yearns for is a normal life. Having fled his past, he wants nothing more than to start over, but Jin’s old life doesn’t want to let him go. When his travels bring him to a new city, he crosses paths with the leader of the local were-tribe. Logan Church is a shock and an enigma, and Jin fears that Logan is both the mate he fears and the love of his life. Jin doesn’t want to go back to the old ways, and mating would irrevocably tie him to them.

But Jin is the mate Logan needs at his side to help him lead his tribe, and he won’t give Jin up so easily. It will take time and trust for Jin to discover the joy in belonging to Logan and how to love without restraint.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

This was an intriguing set-up. Shifters as a secret in modern society, ugly-duckling-becomes-a-swan story, and a nonconformist bucking the system. And for a good portion of the book, it was. Then it devolved into Jin acting like a whiny teenager who annoyed the heck out of me. I have a pet peeve about stories where the primary dramatic conflict could be resolved if the main characters just sat down and talked frankly like responsible adults. If this book had done that it would have been about half the length it was.

The problem I had was that a lot of the pseudo-Egyptian terminology threw me off. Many of the elements of the world building were just missing, leaving the reader to guess at many aspects, but at the same time there were many MANY references to The Rules that every werepanther should know (even if the clan leader doesn’t. Um, what?). Add to all of this the usual insta-love/fated mates trope and I’m left disappointed.

The final tally:
+4 for quality of writing
-0.25 for enough baffling Rules to fill a set of encyclopedias
-0.50 for “I have just met you and I love you!” (I mean, I guess it worked for Dug in Up, but still…)
-0.50 for annoying, uncommunicative man-children
Grand total: 2.75

I won’t recommend it, but I won’t say don’t read it either. Maybe your tolerance for some of this foolishness is better than mine.

(No points off, but a side note: That book cover. It’s certainly a thing, yes. Wow.)

Book Review: The Sumage Solution, by G.L. Carriger

The Sumage Solution, by G.L. Carriger

Max fails everything – magic, relationships, life. So he works for DURPS (the DMV for supernatural creatures) as a sumage, cleaning up other mages’ messes. The job sucks and he’s in no mood to cope with redneck biker werewolves. Unfortunately, there’s something oddly appealing about the huge, muscled Beta visiting his office for processing.

Bryan AKA Biff (yeah, he knows) is gay but he’s not out. There’s a good chance Max might be reason enough to leave the closet, if he can only get the man to go on a date. Everyone knows werewolves hate mages, but Bryan is determined to prove everyone wrong, even the mage in question.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Based on the quality of writing in the short story “Marine Biology” (which I loved and reviewed here), I knew going in that this was going to be an enjoyable book. I was not disappointed! Max first appears as bureaucratic drudge, pushing papers all day long. As I learned more about him, what makes him tick and his terrible history, Max became a very sympathetic character for me. The guy has been through a lot but he’s not prepared for what is to come.

Bryan (“Biff” – ugh) is a sweetheart. A caretaker to the nth degree by nature, he is a gentle giant and he knows it. He’s not above using his size and strength as a threat, but only in service to those he cares about. Max desperately needs someone like Bryan in his life. Watching the two dance around the blossoming relationship was a little frustrating, but worth the wait.

Carriger has created a fun world here. The supernatural is commonplace, with shifters, magicians, and kitsune all sharing space in a modern-day San Francisco. We learn about the laws that bind the place and how magic works as we go, so not a lot of time is wasted on exposition. The ending is telegraphed far ahead, but this was a case where even if you knew where you’re going, you’re still going to enjoy the ride.

This is a wonderful book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I highly recommend it, and hope that sequels are in the works!

Short Story Reviews: Corruption and Marine Biology

I don’t generally review short stories/novellas because (guilty admission here) I don’t generally read short stories/novellas. That said the blurbs on these were interesting enough that they caught my attention. Both are prequels to upcoming series, and I’m pleased to say that I eagerly await both series.


Corruption: A Bureau Story, by Kim Fielding

Once a proud demon of the night sky who carried nightmares to humans, Tenrael has spent decades in captivity as the star attraction of a traveling carnival. He exists in miserable servitude to men who plunk down ten dollars to fulfill their dark desires.

Charles Grimes is half human, half… something else. For fifteen years he’s worked for the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs, ridding the country of dangerous monsters. When his boss sends him to Kansas to chase a rumor about a captive demon, Charles figures it’s just another assignment. Until he meets Tenrael.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Set in a rural, Dust Bowl Kansas of the 1930’s, this story creates quite an atmosphere in its 46 pages. The existence of paranormal beings is known, though how common they might be is unsuspected by most people. This is a world that makes me think of washed-out colors, and where there is not much in the way of black and white but many shades of gray.

Fielding gives readers enticing bits of background and character that leaves them wanting more. For me, I wanted to know more about Charles, more about demons, more about other paranormal beings in this world. Interesting side characters appear briefly, hinting at other story threads to be pursued. I am looking forward to reading more of this world and it’s coming at some point since the story ends with “Coming Soon: Clay White – A Bureau Story”.


Marine Biology, by Gail Carriger (San Andreas Shifters 0.5)

Alec is a werewolf with problems – he’s unexpectedly alive, he’s quite definitely gay, and he’s been ordered into a partnership with one very flirty merman.

Rating: 5 out of 5

From the somber setting of Corruption, we move to this much more lighthearted story. Again, in its short 42 pages Carriger sets up an interesting world. This one is like our own, but where shifters of all kinds exist in secret alongside humans.

Alec is a lovable goof who inadvertently transcends stereotypes of all kinds – he’s just contrary that way. He is pulled into an investigation that throws him together with Marvin, a cute and sexy merman. Hijinks ensue, with entertaining wordplay, innuendos, and sexual tension. The story wraps up quickly but I enjoyed it enough that I have already pre-ordered the first book in the San Andreas Shifters, The Sumage Solution, which comes out in mid-July.

Book Review: Werewolves of Chernobyl, by K. A. Merikan and L. A. Witt

Book Review: Werewolves of Chernobyl, by K. A. Merikan and L. A. Witt

— Being kidnapped by two werewolves is an adventure after all, right? Right?! —

Quinn

If Quinn wants to get the best photos for his travel blog, no gate is too tall, and no ‘do not enter’ sign actually means he won’t go in. What he finds in a hidden exclusion zone by Chernobyl blows his mind. Mutants? Monsters? He doesn’t know, but he is bound to find out when not one but two of them break into his hotel.

Too bad the rules and attitudes they have toward sex don’t match Quinn’s at all.

Dima

Born with a disabled hand, smaller than the other werewolves, Dima is the lowest of the low in his pack, but when he meets the loveliest human he’s ever seen, he knows his luck has changed.
The last thing he expects though is his beloved friend Nazar turning on him once Dima’s affection for Quinn deepens, and he refuses to be mounted by Nazar anymore.

Nazar

Nazar is a high ranking soldier in his pack, but in his powerful body hides a gentle soul, and all he wants is to escape the pack with Dima. But once Dima claims Quinn as his, secrets Nazar has so far kept hidden rear their ugly head.

The werewolf language doesn’t have words to describe what they crave, so Quinn might be the only one to help them solve the puzzle of the desires that go against the rules of their pack.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Prior to reading this I was unfamiliar with the Russian concept of bodarks, and how they differ from the standard Western version of “werewolf”. It’s not a big difference but it helps to understand the goings-on a bit more. That said, I really enjoyed this book. The shifting points of view were fascinating, from the American Quinn’s familiar outlook on events to Dima and Nazar’s foreign view, both Russian and strictly pack-hierarchical. The difference between the two provided a great contrast too: Dima, the submissive bottom who longed to be dominant, and Nazar, the strong dominant who wants to let someone else take control but is forbidden by the pack structure

The overall story is pretty basic, though there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. There was a bit of insta-love and development of relationships and trust a little too quickly. I was able to overlook that because holy cats, this book is SMOKING HOT! The scenes of Dima and Nazar, Dima and Quinn, and Dima, Quinn, and Nazar were amazing and well-written. I was also pleased that there were definitely places that the book did not take itself too seriously, with some observations by Quinn that completely cracked me up.

The net result:
3.75 for the story
+0.25 because werewolves (hey, I know what I like)
+0.25 for laugh-out-loud moments
+0.25 for being incredibly sexy
Total: 4.50 stars

I loved it!