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Book Review: The Gentle Wolf, by Pia Foxhall (Perth Shifters #2)

The Gentle Wolf, by Pia Foxhall

Omega Aodhan Donne has buried his past, his life revolves around his chocolaterie, Little Star, a place where he creates sweet and happy memories. Demisexual, and used to being shoved in the friends category by the time he falls for someone, he throws all his energy into creating romantic moments for others in his store, neglecting his needs. His highlight for two years has been the man who visits his shop every Tuesday.

Beta Thomas Wilson is an historian who believes the past should be unearthed, working as the curator at Western Australia’s only shifter museum, educating children and adults about shifter history. Quiet and hard-working, he allows himself to visit Aodhan at Little Star once a week, as a treat.

When Aodhan decides he wants to get know Thomas better, he offers him a window into a complicated history that influenced the lives of shifters in the whole of Australia, and faces the possibility of Thomas learning too much about his dark past.

After deciding to take it slow, their unconventional relationship becomes a whirlwind, sweeping them up together and blowing open the doors hiding their painful pasts. They couldn’t face their truths alone, but if they’re willing to face them together, Aodhan and Thomas may get the love they’ve always yearned for.

Content warning (contains spoilers)
domestic emotional abuse, child sexual abuse

Rating: 5 out of 5!

I’m calling it now – this is the best book I’ve read in 2020. I loved Aodhan and Thomas so much, and they were so good for each other.

I’m a gay man who identifies as demisexual/gray-asexual, and many of Aodhan’s experiences and feelings as an adult really struck a chord with me. The author captures the emotions and worries of someone who is demisexual exceptionally well.

This is the slowest of slow-burn love stories, but I loved that. Both men have deep emotional scars from their past. I especially appreciate that their pasts weren’t presented and then – well, that’s over with, now on to the rest of the story. We are the sum of our history, and that can inform our emotions and needs. This is the case for Aodhan and Thomas. Over two years they have (unknowingly) laid the foundation for a strong relationship while becoming acclimated to each other. Watching these two men come to lean on each other for support was wonderfully sweet and gratifying.

While this is a shifter book in a genre that frequently treats the shifter subgenre as trope-laden connect-the-dots stories, The Gentle Wolf digs deeper. The personal histories, particularly Aodhan’s, can affect the larger world, and the hints of connections outside the immediate story setting were intriguing. I would especially love to hear more of the Noongar (SW Australia Aboriginal) shifters. Foxhall’s obvious respect for the Noongar culture and traditions is very much appreciated.

This is the second book in the Perth Shifters series, but I think it stands alone quite well. The first book (Blackwood) was enjoyable and worth seeking out (I rated it 4 out of 5) but it is by no means as deep or nuanced as The Gentle Wolf, though it is a good introduction to the author’s worldbuilding. I recommend them both, but I especially love The Gentle Wolf!

As a side note, between N. R. Walker, Keira Andrews, and now Pia Foxhall, I kind of want to spend a month in Australia to see all of the wonderful places mentioned in their books (and I know that still wouldn’t be enough time)!

Book Review: Wolf Lost (The Wolves of Kismet #1), by Sam Burns

Wolf Lost (The Wolves of Kismet #1), by Sam Burns

Sawyer Holt can’t go home. The Alpha who has replaced his father wants to use him as a tool to cement his political power, and Sawyer isn’t interested in marrying his father’s murderer.

Dez Sullivan’s leg may never heal from his last mission in Afghanistan, but he’s getting used to that. What he can’t adapt to are the nightmares and the tremor in his hand that the doctors insist is all in his head. Next to that, being a brand new werewolf seems easy, until Sawyer Holt blows into his life. The omega activates his burgeoning wolf instincts in a new way, and they threaten to overwhelm his common sense.

Both men are in Colorado searching for a new start, a new pack, and the safety they’ve lost. Their meeting is pure Kismet.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

This was a lovely read! The plot is nothing particularly complicated, but that’s OK because it left more time to focus on the characters. Dez, Ash, and Gavin are war buddies who have recently left the service following a vaguely-described incident that left Dez with a crushed leg, tremors, and major PTSD. Oh, and as a result of that incident Dez and Gavin are newly-minted werewolves. Minor point, I know. Sawyer has been assumed to be delicate and fragile all of his life, but underneath that is a fierce determination. He and Dez are a great couple, and I enjoyed seeing the sparks between them.

One of the things that I loved about this book is how it upends some typical werewolf tropes: Fated Mates (though we skirt that a bit), There Can Be Only One Alpha, and others. Of course, other tropes are knot avoided, but it’s all part of the fun. Dez and Gavin have only been werewolves for 5 or 6 weeks and are still ignorant of many of the traditions and cultural expectations. For the most part that doesn’t matter since it’s just the three of them isolated in the Colorado mountains, but it leads to some humorous moments as they make a faux pas, then shrug it off. They’re soldiers first, then werewolves second, and act accordingly.

If I have any complaint it’s that I would have liked to have seen more detail about what the mysterious event in Afghanistan was and how it affected Gavin and Ash, but I suspect that will be found in future books in the series. This is the foundation for a great series, and I look forward to the next book!

Two Years On

Today marks two years since Dan’s passing. As with last year, it’s a time for reflection for me, to think about where I’ve been and where I’m going.

A good friend told gave me some very wise advice early on: “It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.” I’ve revisited those words many times and thought about what they mean to me. In the last year I’ve found I have less frequent episodes of breaking down crying, of that feeling of complete despondency. The worst are still the dreams where Dan is away on business and in that fuzzy time between sleep and waking, I think about how he’ll be home soon. Those are really hard, but there’s not much to do but soldier on.

There are always reminders in places we went, things we enjoyed together, foods he liked. I want those reminders, though. It’s not likely I’ll ever forget but having those are an important touchstone for me. I’m still grappling with survivor guilt, but also know that Dan would be kicking me in the ass and telling me to go live my life. For the longest time “it’s what he would have wanted” felt like a cop-out, but that doesn’t remove the underlying truth.

Just a few weeks I hit an important turning point: I went on my first date in over two decades. Nothing will come of it, unfortunately, but having the date itself was more important than any outcome. I’m realizing that having another person in my life won’t displace Dan, they will be in addition to him. Realizing that makes me feel a lot better.

I’ve got big plans for the coming year. I’m working on creating an Accessibility Services department for Midwest FurFest because in the short time that I was with Dan after his back injury, I realized quickly the issues created by limited mobility. I want to use that knowledge to help make the convention better for everyone.

I have international travel slated as well, something we had big hopes to do. I’ll be seeing parts of the world that are completely new to me. I wish I could have seen them with Dan, but I carry him in my heart every day and so we’ll still see them together.

I love you, Dan.

Scenes from Christmas Eve

On a happier note, here are some pics I took this evening. That’s Basilique Norte Dame de Montréal, and a Christmas-themed bar that was cute but ridiculously overpriced. For the rest, Vieux Montréal is a bit of a tourist trap, but they sure can create an amazing atmosphere. My favorite part of the night: the skating rink at the Old Port in Montréal. The music was just perfect, too.

Great Western Road Trip, Day 5

Today’s song: Not a Lot Goin’ On, by Northey Valenzuela

Current Location: Regina, Saskatchewan

Today’s song is, of course, the theme song to Corner Gas, a Canadian comedy set in the fictional Dog River, Saskatchewan, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. It’s a very funny show, and I need to watch more of it.

On Day 5, I rested. Today has been a very low-key kind of day and I definitely needed it. It doesn’t help that my hosts’ household is fighting off a nasty cold and they didn’t have a lot of energy. This was just fine by me though!

I woke up entirely too early, 5:30 AM. The change in time zones caught up with me, coupled with the light outside seeming so bright that’s I assumed it was 7:30 or so. Nope! Fortunately I had gotten to sleep moderately early last night so it wasn’t too bad. This gave me time to hang out with Lydia and Andrew’s dogs, Jasper (darker brown) and Zoe (lighter brown).

They are both complete and utter sweeties, and need lots of petting!

Once everyone got rolling, we took the dogs over to the Legislature Building and walked around the lake and gardens. It was a beautiful day, and the views were lovely.

After a nice lunch (I enjoyed by Ahi tuna salad) we came back and just relaxed around the house. I think Zoe and Jasper had exactly the right idea.

Dinner time brought a Ukrainian feast, courtesy of roommate Chris. Pierogis, nalysnyky, beetniks, borscht, shishliki, and double garlic kovbasa. Absolutely delicious, and a lovely dinner al fresco.

Also, I was happy to be able to share a champagne toast to Dan with friends who weren’t able to make it to previous memorials.

We chatted and relaxed after dinner, then I called it an early night. Tomorrow: an early start, and a drive to Calgary via the scenic route. Well, as scenic as Saskatchewan can get, anyway…

Miles Driven Today: 5 miles (a short shopping trip)

Time Driving Today: 0:15

Total Miles Driven: 1,256 miles

Total Time Driving: 25:49

Book Review: Road to the Sun, by Keira Andrews

Jason Kellerman’s life revolves around his eight-year-old daughter. Teenage curiosity with his best friend led to Maggie’s birth, her mother tragically dying soon after. Insistent on raising his daughter himself, he was disowned by his wealthy family and has worked tirelessly to support Maggie-even bringing her west on a dream vacation. Only twenty-five, Jason hasn’t had time to even think about romance. So the last thing he expects is to question his sexuality after meeting an undeniably attractive park ranger.

Ben Hettler’s stuck. He loves working in the wild under Montana’s big sky, but at forty-one, his love life is non-existent, his ex-boyfriend just married and adopted, and Ben’s own dream of fatherhood feels impossibly out of reach. He’s attracted to Jason, but what’s the point? Besides the age difference and skittish Jason’s lack of experience, they live thousands of miles apart. Ben wants more than a meaningless fling.

Then a hunted criminal takes Maggie hostage, throwing Jason and Ben together in a desperate and dangerous search through endless miles of mountain forest. If they rescue Maggie against all odds, can they build a new family together and find a place to call home?

Road to the Sun, by Keira Andrews

I picked up this book because my travels this summer will take me to Glacier National Park, so it seemed particularly relevant. I’m glad I did – the setting for the story is lovely, and Andrews gives a nice sense of place. (The fact that Andrews renamed Going to the Sun Road to Road to the Sun for the book title makes me twitch a bit, but I’ll get over it.)

This was a nice story, and plot-wise it flowed reasonably well, though it tended to slow down a bit toward the end. The biggest issue I had with it was the pacing of the relationship. Yes, Ben and Jason went through a lot together in a very short time, but 7 days from just meeting to True Love Forever is still rather a stretch. Likewise, Jason jumps from “I admire men in the locker room only for their physique” to “Hey, I may not be so straight after all, let’s have anal sex our first time together!”

The characters are well-defined and relatable. Ben is the strong, stoic type, still recovering from a bad breakup. Jason is a hardworking single father. Maggie is a precocious eight-year-old, though not obnoxiously so. About the only problem I had was that I wanted to smack Jason upside the head for his indecisiveness and worrying, but even that was understandable given his past.

This was a fun, if not particularly deep, read. I’d give it a rating of 4 out of 5. I would be happy to read more of Andrews’ work in the future.

Weight Loss A Go Go!

Well, here we go! As of today, Dan and I are participating in Centegra Hospital’s Optifast Program. You can find more info here, but here’s the short version:
•    12 weeks of nothing but Optifast shakes, bars, and soups.
•    8 weeks of transitioning back to real food
•    8 weeks of maintenance/consultation

During the first 12 weeks there are weekly classes, bloodwork, and metabolism monitoring. After that, there are monthly meetings/consultations, and follow-up with the program. This is a Really Big Deal, but it is something that we feel needs to be done.

Some Frequently Asked Questions:
Only Optifast products? Really?
We are supposed to have 7 servings per day. I’m taking the approach of a shake for breakfast, a bar mid-morning, soup for lunch, a bar mid-afternoon, a shake when I get home from work, soup for dinner, and a shake for “dessert”. Each serving has 175 calories, and has all of the necessary nutrients and fiber to keep us going.

Won’t you get hungry?
Really, these suckers are pretty filling. If anything, it’s going to be a bit of work to get 7 servings in!

Can you take a break, maybe have a salad or some celery?
Nope, not one bit. In fact, this creates a balance in your system, so if you suddenly shock it with, way, a salad, you can have some bad ramifications from the sudden influx of natural fiber, up to and including pancreatitis.

What about variety?
Well, the shakes come in powder and Ready To Drink “juice boxes” in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The bars are chocolate, peanut butter chocolate, and strawberry. The soups are Garden Vegetable or Chicken. The good news is that calorie-neutral additives are A-OK. Herbs in the soup? Sure! Diet orange soda with the vanilla shake to make a creamsicle-flavored drink? Sure! Extracts/oils to add to the shakes to change up the flavor, like chocolate almond or vanilla mint? No problem. (Also: instant coffee in the vanilla shake may become my morning ritual!) I suspect that by week 12 we’ll be ready for something different, but there are enough options that we should be able to keep things moderately interesting.

Is it just diet? No exercise?
We’ll be doing exercise too! The program comes with a free 2-month membership at Centegra’s Healthbridge Fitness Center (and it’s just $100/month thereafter for both of us). We intend to start in on that soon (me next week, Dan the week after that since he’ll be traveling next week). I hope to sign up for a class or two, and probably spend a good number of our evenings there.

What is your goal weight?
Honestly, I don’t have a goal weight. I don’t want to become fixated on numbers. I’m at a size 42 waist right now. Size 38 would be great, and I haven’t been in Size 36 pants in decades. That would really tickle me. I like Dan’s approach: he wants to lose enough weight that he can ride every single roller coaster at Great America. That’s a good, attainable goal, I think. As far as what’s possible, we have friends who have lost over 50 pounds on this program, and some double that. It depends on metabolism, and how we apply ourselves and take the classes to heart.

Won’t you just gain all the weight back?
That is always a hazard. The purpose of the classes, consultations, follow-up, and exercise are to prevent that from happening though. As I commented at our initial meeting, I’m not interested in where I’ll be in 6 months. I’m more interested in where I’ll be in 5 years. This is a huge commitment, but it is a commitment to greatly improve both of our lives and so is well worth it.

Sounds expensive!
It’s not cheap. The sign-up fee is $950 per person, and food each week is $175 per person. All told, this program will cost Dan and me $5,500 or so, though the sign-up fee may be covered by FSA. It’s a lot, and has called for some sacrifices, but again: so worth it.

So that’s where we are right now. Watch Twitter and Facebook for updates throughout our adventure. Many, many thanks to Smackjackal, Stormy Kittyhawk, Shyhoof, Tugrik, and many others for providing the idea and inspiration to pursue this, and for showing the incredible possibilities which may lie ahead!

Tumblr post: evaunit08: miss-nerdgasmz: grandwhizbang: When you have to…




When you have to make your own food, and you’ve been watching too much food network lately

What you have before you are deconstructed, rustic chicken breast fritters coated lightly in breadcrumbs and toasted until crisp and golden- the sauce is a tomato, worcestershire, and vinegar reduction, with the vinegar for some brightness, and some brown sugar for sweetness to offset the umami of the chicken

I love what you’ve done with the presentation of your plate. it’s simple yet fun. it shows that you’re mature but you’re not afraid to show your inner child. However, with that being said, there is way too much sauce on the plate and the flavor could use more acidity. Your chicken is under seasoned. I feel like you could have used more salt. For these reasons, we had to chop you.   

on tumblr: