Tag Archives: book review

You Want Some M/M Werewolf Books?

Sometimes a male werewolf and another male werewolf (or another male human) love each other very much. You want some suggestions for m/m werewolf books? Well here you go! I have rated all of these 5/5 (or if a series most of the books 5/5).

In no particular order:

That’s a good start, anyway. Go forth and howl at the moon!

Book Review: Conventionally Yours, by Annabeth Albert

Charming, charismatic, and effortlessly popular, Conrad Stewart seems to have it all…but in reality, he’s scrambling to keep his life from tumbling out of control.

Brilliant, guarded, and endlessly driven, Alden Roth may as well be the poster boy for perfection…but even he can’t help but feel a little broken inside.

When these mortal enemies are stuck together on a cross-country road trip to the biggest fan convention of their lives, their infamous rivalry takes a backseat as an unexpected connection is forged. Yet each has a reason why they have to win the upcoming Odyssey gaming tournament and neither is willing to let emotion get in the way—even if it means giving up their one chance at something truly magical.

Conventionally Yours (True Colors #1), by Annabeth Albert

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Conventionally Yours has some of my favorite tropes: slow-burn, road trip, enemies-to-lovers, hurt/comfort. I appreciate that the setting is deep in fannish culture, and though doesn’t repeatedly point it out glaringly, it also doesn’t just mention it and dispense with it for the rest of the book. The backdrop for the story is the card game Odyssey, a thinly-disguised version of Magic: The Gathering. The snippets of gameplay that are included are illustrative of the personalities of the players, and although some readers have found it tedious I thought it was an interesting additional and a unique way to provide the reader insight to how the characters think.

Main characters Conrad and Alden are each at a crossroads in their lives. Conrad comes across as a bit of the jock stereotype, partying and sleeping around through college, though appearances are of course deceiving. Alden’s moms have been pushing him to medical school, but that’s not what he wants, though exactly what he does want is still hazy for him. Alden is also neurodiverse in some fashion, and I like that the author doesn’t try to get more specific than that. Difficulties reading social cues, anxieties, and other traits suggest underlying issues, but that’s as deep as it gets, and that’s fine. Both are participants in their professor’s YouTube series, “Gamer Grandpa”. Having only interacted over gameplay, each finds the other annoying and exasperating.

Circumstances send Alden and Conrad road-tripping from New Jersey to Las Vegas for the biggest national Odyssey convention, where the winner could join the pro tour and receive the money and (fandom) fame that comes with it. Winning the tournament would mean validation and success for either of them, though the problem is there can be only one winner, a dramatic tension that builds through the story.

I loved both of these guys. I saw bits of people I know in each of them, and that made the story that much more enjoyable. This is very much a slow burn romance, but watching them slowly open up to each other and realize that they’re a better match than they ever would have guessed was so very sweet.

The book is told by alternating the point of view between Alden and Conrad chapter-by-chapter. The audio version did a great job of this by having two brilliant narrators swapping off, Joel Froomkin (aka Joel Leslie) for Alden’s chapters and Kirt Graves for Conrad’s chapters. Joel nails Alden’s Jersey-boy accent, while Kirt’s earnest Midwestern Conrad is dead-on. My only quibble is that this meant that we actually heard four “voices” as, for example, Kirt read Alden’s dialogue in Conrad’s chapters, and that didn’t match Joel’s delivery. I still like the approach, though, and I’m happy to see it is used again in the sequel.

This is a fun, geeky, and very satisfying story of an intense rivalry that becomes an sweet relationship. I happily recommend it!

Book Review: Galaxies and Oceans, by N.R. Walker

Seizing his one chance to escape, Ethan Hosking leaves his violent ex-boyfriend, leaves his entire life, and walks into the path of a raging bushfire. Desperate to start over, a new man named Aubrey Hobbs walks out of the fire-ravaged forest, alive and alone. With no ID and no money, nothing but his grandfather’s telescope, he goes where the Southern Cross leads him.

Patrick Carney is the resident lighthouse keeper in Hadley Cove, a small town on the remote Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. After the tragic death of his lover four years ago, he lives a solitary life; just him, a tabby cat, the Indian and Southern Oceans, and a whole lot of loneliness. He’s content with his life until a stranger shows up in town and turns Patrick’s head.

Patrick never expected to be interested in anyone else.

Aubrey never expected to be happy.

Between Aubrey’s love of the stars and Patrick’s love of the ocean, these two fragile hearts must navigate new waters. If they can weather the storm of their pasts, they could very well have a love that eclipses everything.

Galaxies and Oceans, by N.R. Walker

I am a big fan of N.R. Walker’s character-driven contemporary stories, and this book is no exception. When they first meet, these men are emotionally battered, but surviving. Aubrey is a survivor of horrible domestic abuse, and Patrick is grieving for his husband, lost at sea four years earlier.

I really loved Aubrey, who went from a relatively pampered life to homeless and struggling to get by on the streets. It seems a stretch, but it becomes apparent that he has the strength of character to do whatever is necessary to keep going, and to avoid being pulled back into his old life.

Patrick is living in a small town and keeping relative solitude in his job as lighthouse keeper. He’s living his life, but it’s the emotional equivalent of just keeping the lights on. There’s only one other gay man in town, and he’s not interested (I do love that the whole town seems to be cheering for him throughout the story though).

The circumstances which conspire to throw Patrick and Aubrey together are a little contrived, but given the genre I’ll allow it. It’s a slow burn as the feelings between the two grow. I can sympathize with Patrick’s feelings of guilt as he comes to terms with his feelings for Aubrey, leading to this wonderful passage:

Love him.

I can see why you love him.

Those two words stopped me. I did still love him, but it was in the past. I didn’t want to say I loved him in past tense, because that sounded like it was over and forgotten. And it wasn’t. He wasn’t forgotten. He never would be. But it wasn’t love like it was when he was alive. It hadn’t lessened any, it just became something else. It was a permanent part of my life. Like a background hum, a comforting presence that helped me get through dark times. It was still there, and I didn’t want it to disappear; I wanted that hum, that white noise that comforted me.

This is such a remarkable observation, and I adore Patrick all the more for it.

As frequently occurs in Walker’s books, the setting itself is almost a character in the story. Here, we are on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia, with nothing but open ocean between it and Antarctica. She describes it as a place of bare rocks and sea, an austere place but with beauty to be found if you know where to look. That fits this story so very well (also, I would love to see the Aurora Australis someday!).

As always, Joel Leslie does a fabulous job performing this book. His character voices are unique and easy to follow, and the production quality is very good – I’ve become accustomed to listening for awkward edits and wildly varying audio levels, and I heard none of that. On aside note, I noted with amusement that Leslie seems to have a uniform “Australian woman” voice with only slight variations so it can be difficult to distinguish between those characters, but that’s just a minor quibble. I have loved all of his performances over the books I have heard from him, and seeing him as narrator is a strong selling point for when I am considering purchasing an audiobook.

Book Review: Spellbound (Magic in Manhattan #1) by Allie Therin

To save Manhattan, they’ll have to save each other first…

1925 New York

Arthur Kenzie’s life’s work is protecting the world from the supernatural relics that could destroy it. When an amulet with the power to control the tides is shipped to New York, he must intercept it before it can be used to devastating effects. This time, in order to succeed, he needs a powerful psychometric…and the only one available has sworn off his abilities altogether.

Rory Brodigan’s gift comes with great risk. To protect himself, he’s become a recluse, redirecting his magic to find counterfeit antiques. But with the city’s fate hanging in the balance, he can’t force himself to say no.

Being with Arthur is dangerous, but Rory’s ever-growing attraction to him begins to make him brave. And as Arthur coaxes him out of seclusion, a magical and emotional bond begins to form. One that proves impossible to break—even when Arthur sacrifices himself to keep Rory safe and Rory must risk everything to save him.

Spellbound (Magic in Manhattan #1) by Allie Therin, Narrated by Erik Bloomquist

5 out of 5!

This book is fun as hell. Therin has done a fine job of creating the look and feel of 1925 New York City, as well as touching on the differences among the social strata. The paranormal world building is lightly overlaid on real events and places to create a compelling history, as well as a good deal of suspense and mystery.

I keep telling myself that I don’t like historical romances (paranormal or not) because of the dismal attitudes toward homosexuality. K.J. Charles proved how wrong I was (about the romances, not the homophobia, alas), though, and now Allie Therin has soundly put the idea to rest.

Rory and Ace are such a great couple, and the cast of characters are a hoot as well. I especially loved Rory’s arc throughout the book as he learns that he doesn’t have to hide and try to escape everyone’s notice, and is in fact someone worthy of another’s affection. Ace is cynical and snarky, and a perfect foil for Rory’s naiveté. I am really looking forward to seeing their relationship develop over the rest of the series.

I listened to the audio version of this, performed by Erik Bloomquist. As frequently happens with prolific performers, I have heard his work in other books (Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series). It took a bit to recalibrate to the voices of this particular book, but once that was settled I really enjoyed Bloomquist’s performance. Not only does he provide clear difference between that characters’ voices, he captures their vocal tics and accents well. His dry, sardonic delivery of Ace’s dialogue is just perfect, too.

If you’re looking for an entertaining and at times suspenseful historical paranormal romance, this is an outstanding choice!

Book Review: Accepting Submission, by Kris T. Bethke

Alphas aren’t made to submit.

Raised in a conservative clan, Asher Grant has done everything he could to be a good alpha. A good son. But denying his needs has made him weak, and he’s lost touch with his bear. No longer able to shift, his clan rejects him instead of helping. Desperate, there’s only one place Asher can turn.

Trey Carver leads his pack with a firm but gentle hand. Under his guidance, his wolves have flourished. Asher knows he won’t be welcome among the wolves, but Trey has something he needs. Asking for it isn’t easy. Accepting it when it’s offered is even harder.

As Trey teaches Asher the beauty of dominance and submission, Asher begins to heal. Accepting his true self has a power all its own. When Trey makes the ultimate offer, Asher feels honor bound to deny it. Can a wolf convince a bear that they are meant to be?

Accepting Submission, by Kris T. Bethke

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I’ll start this review by noting that I was provided an advance readers copy for reasons mentioned below, but I am happy to provide an independent review.

I really enjoyed this. It’s told entirely from Asher’s point of view, and we get a close look at his insecurities and doubts. He is an outcast for not living up to his clan’s perceptions of what he should be and feels a complete failure. At his heart, though, he is a smart, sensitive man who just doesn’t fit expectations. I could wish we had some of Trey’s POV to have a better sense of his reactions, but I also understand how that could take the reader out of the story. The scenes of Asher and Trey just talking and learning about one another are what made the story for me, and they make a great couple.

D/s is not typically my thing, but I understand the mechanics of it and can absolutely sympathize with the power exchange concept (even a control freak like me can see the attraction of letting someone else make the decisions sometimes). I liked that it was made clear that being a sub doesn’t mean “anything goes”. If a sub has questions or concerns, it’s OK to do say so. Like any relationship, communication is what makes it work. Those aspects are what helped me connect more with the scenes here.

Oh, and about that ARC? If you note my username, and the fact that I have two sweet dogs, Nora and Charlie, you’ll understand. Any similarities beyond the names are purely coincidental, but it was a delightful surprise from Kris (although my Nora is every bit as sassy as the Nora in the story!).

I loved this fun, sexy novella! I look forward to reading more tales of the Carver pack.

Book Review: Upside Down, by N.R. Walker

Jordan O’Neill isn’t a fan of labels, considering he has a few. Gay, geek, a librarian, socially awkward, a nervous rambler, an introvert, an outsider. The last thing he needs is one more. But when he realizes adding the label ‘asexual’ might explain a lot, it turns his world upside down.

Hennessy Lang moved to Surry Hills after splitting with his boyfriend. His being asexual had seen the end of a lot of his romances, but he’s determined to stay true to himself. Leaving his North Shore support group behind, he starts his own in Surry Hills, where he meets first-time-attendee Jordan.

A little bewildered and scared, but completely adorable, Hennessy is struck by this guy who’s trying to find where he belongs. Maybe Hennessy can convince Jordan that his world hasn’t been turned upside down at all, but maybe it’s now—for the first time in his life—the right way up.

Upside Down, by N.R. Walker

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Nobody writes adorkable like N.R. Walker! Her low-angst, character-driven novels are always refreshing and enjoyable, and this book was no exception. Jordan is a nerdy sort, whose social anxiety leads to nervous chatter which actually gets to be pretty endearing. Hennessy is more laid-back, but more of a techno-geek. What begins as an crush on a stranger on a bus blossoms into something beautiful and charming.

One of the things that I loved about this book were the side characters: Merry, Jordan’s stoic co-worker and best friend, Angus, Jordan’s sweet-but-dense roommate, Michael, Hennessy’s best friend and boss. I especially got a kick out of “The Soup Crew”, strangers on the bus who become invested in Jordan and Hennessy’s growing relationship. As I’ve seen in other books, Walker has a tendency to tie the side-characters together neatly with some convenient coincidences, but that’s a minor nitpick.

As mentioned in the blurb, the story is about an asexual relationship, and Jordan’s coming to terms with his own asexual orientation. Recognizing that this is a concept that is new to many, Walker makes an effort to clearly explain what asexuality is and is not, and that is something that is much appreciated. As a man who continues to come to terms with his own asexuality this book spoke to me on a very personal level, and I could absolutely identify with a lot of Jordan’s feelings. The fact that asexuality is a spectrum not a fixed point is frequently frustrating, and for that reason Jordan’s self-doubt is quite relatable.

I listened to this on audio and while the story was great, I had some minor issues with Glen Lloyd’s narration. Some pauses between chapters and paragraphs where the setting changes would be appreciated. Also, the voices used for Hennessy and Jordan were very similar, at least to my American ear, making it difficult to tell who was talking at times.

I really enjoyed Upside Down and would highly recommend it to anyone, though it is especially good if you want to learn more about asexuality.

Note: To find out more about asexuality I suggest checking out The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, which is a trove of useful information.

Book Review: The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, Book 1) by K. D. Edwards

Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment’s missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam’s relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune’s Court.

In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family’s death and the torments of his past? 

The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, Book 1), by K.D. Edwards

Rating: 5 out of 5!

There was once a large land off what we know as the east coast of North America, Atlantis. They were a race of beings who possessed magic and used that magic to hide their existence while meddling in human affairs however they liked. This was all well and good until the first man in space looked out the window and saw something which should not be there. This discovery started a sequence of events that escalated to the Atlantean World War, a war that the Atlanteans lost. The decimated race retreated to the island of Nantucket, where they have created their own society in parallel with humans, consuming human popular culture, but with its own social mores and politics.

All of this has occurred before The Last Sun’s story begins, but the world-building here is glorious. With the Atlantean ability to translocate entire tracts of land to their island, we get an urban fantasy that has just enough of a touch of the real world to keep it anchored (and to easily envision where events are occurring). One of the gratifying things here is that this is all in the background, tacitly understood, which allows the story to flow around it.

And flow it does! We take up the story of Rune Saint John, disgraced child of a ruined family, eking out an existence on the fringes of Atlantean society. He is accompanied by his Companion, Brand, his bodyguard and best friend to whom he is linked empathically. What follows is part caper, part mystery, part political intrigue. Rune and Brand are great foils for one another, and the banter between them shows the underlying affection despite occasional exasperation.

To go any further into the plot gives away all kinds of spoilers, unfortunately. Technically speaking, though, this book is outstanding. The narrative framing, the development of the side characters, and the bit-by-bit unraveling of the mystery are all handled perfectly. This is the kind of book that when you get to the end, you’re sad that there’s not more. Great news, though! The sequel, The Hanged Man, is out and it is every bit as good as this book, if not better.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Josh Hurley. This is definitely not just narration, though! Hurley delivers a masterful performance, capturing the emotions and inflections of each character. Every character is distinct, and each develops a trademark way of speaking. I especially lover Brand’s snarkiness, and Addam’s Russian accent, which becomes more pronounced the more emotional he is. Hurley’s work made an excellent book even better!

Finally, two notes about this book. First, there is frank discussion of rape and abuse and the consequences thereof. It is handled thoughtfully and sensibly and is an important part of the story. Second, for all that this book came to my attention as an M/M romance, it would be far better classified as urban fantasy with characters who happen to not be straight. I would highly recommend this book to any fan of urban fantasy; without a doubt it is one of the best books I’ve read in the last five years.

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!

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

2018: A Year in Books

I’m a little (OK a lot) late but:

2018 has come to a close, so now it’s time for me to look back at the year in books. I read (or re-read) 129 books over the course of the year. Of those:

  • 100% were M/M romances
  • 74% were paranormal romances
  • 51% featured shifters (42% featured werewolves specifically)
  • 17% were audiobooks

Looking at my Goodreads ratings, my reviews broke down to:

  • Rating 5 out of 5 – 40%
  • Rating 4 out of 5 – 44%
  • Rating 3 out of 5 – 15%
  • Rating 2 out of 5 – 1%
  • Rating 1 out of 5 – 0% (none, actually)

No low ratings? Why is that?

One reason my reviews are as high as they are is that I do lean heavily on Goodread’s aggregate reviews. If a book’s rating is less than 3.70, there has to be something pretty spectacular for me to pick it up. Like Yelp, Amazon or anything else, though, a book has to have a significant number of reviews for any rating to be meaningful. I usually look for at least 100 reviews.

Greatest Hits

I loved Kris Bethke’s “Requiem Inc.” trilogy. I wrote a detailed review of the first book, and I’m happy to say that the second and third books continued with compelling characters and engaging plotlines. This is a series I will be coming back to as a form of “literary comfort food.”

Sam Burns’ Rowan Harbor Cycle was a fantastic discovery of a new-to-me author. All told the series will be three trilogies; the first two trilogies were published in 2018, and the seventh book is about to come out as I write this (I reviewed the first book, Blackbird in the Reeds, in detail). Burns has created a fantastic setting here, a remote Oregon coastal town secretly populated by all sorts of paranormal folks – witches, shapeshifters, vampires, and more. For the most part, though, they lead pretty normal lives. The dramatic tension comes from outside threats to the town and its denizens. I adore the main characters here. Devon, Jesse, and Fletcher each have a time in the spotlight, and each finds their match who complements them well. With a large ensemble cast it would be easy to get lost in who’s who, but Burns does a great job keeping the focus narrow enough that the reader doesn’t lost, but wide enough to tell a larger story.

I’m way late to the game on this series, but K.J. Charles’ A Charm of Magpies series (I wrote a detailed review of the first book, The Magpie Lord) was a delightful find. I normally shy away from historical romances because of the homophobia that tends runs throughout, and while it exists here it’s in the background. These novels are set in Victorian England, but one in which practitioners (users of magic) are a part of society. The interplay of class friction, social machinations, and evil magic makes for some very enjoyable tales. I listened to these on audio, and Cornell Collins’ narration was spot-on, and his range of accents to denote not only a character’s voice but their class as well was extremely well done.

Austin Chant’s Peter Darling has us exploring what happened next in Neverland, and we find that things are not quite like what we may have read in the tales of Peter Pan. This is a stunning reimagining of Neverland, and touches on gender identity, the lies we tell ourselves, and roles we are forced into by others. This was hands-down the most imaginative and innovative book I read in 2018.

Amy Lane has a knack for creating some wonderful characters and then putting them through the wringer. Her Promises series remains one of my all-time favorites, but the Bonfires series (first book reviewed here) is shaping up to rival that. The main characters are in their forties and fifties, and have established lives and families. The stories of them getting together and creating one big family are just fantastic. Like most of Lane’s books, it’s the characters that I really enjoy, and Aaron and Larx are such a great couple that I really related to. This was another audiobook, performed by Nick J. Russo, whose work with each character’s speech patterns and inflections made some excellent books really outstanding!

Honorable Mentions

The Delta Restorations series by Diana Copland is a lovely contemporary series that I enjoyed on audiobook. Again, great characters help create some compelling stories, with a bit of suspense thrown in.

Annabelle Jacobs’ Regent’s Park Pack series gives us a London in which werewolves are commonplace among humans. Pack politics, true mates, and happily-ever-afters abound. I tore through this series like popcorn, and I think it will hold up for rereading as well.

Ethan, Who Loved Carter by Ryan Loveless was simply stunning. It’s an intimate portrait of two characters in difficult situations, Carter, who lives with Tourette’s Syndrome, and Ethan, who has suffered a traumatic brain injury. This book really made me think about how we view people with disabilities or are just different, and it wasn’t always a comfortable read. Still, it was definitely one of the most enlightening books of 2018 for me.

By Fairy Means or Foul by Meghan Maslow (reviewed here) was an enjoyable goofy romp in a farcical fantasy world. Greg Boudreaux’s narration of the audiobook was brilliant!

Finally, In This Iron Ground by Marina Vivancos (reviewed here) was a werewolf novel where the werewolves more incidental than central to the plot. It’s a difficult story of a boy, Damien, growing up in the foster care system and learning to deal with abuse and the aftereffects. He finds a family who offers him escape and healing. That they are werewolves is almost peripheral, except that it introduces a kind of otherness that separates them from Damien. This was a deeply emotional book, and a very well-written one at that.

That’s the best of 2018 for me! Here’s looking forward to more wonderful books and stories for 2019.

Book Review: Rebuilding Hope (Kindred #1), by Jessie G.

Holden Bancroft was born with a better than average brain and not much else. Often described as strange and sickly, his attempts to conform only made him look foolish and a life-long diet of pills hasn’t provided a cure. Deciding to strengthen the only tool in his arsenal was liberating and learning became his greatest joy. But each episode is another reminder that his time is limited, and Holden intends to use everything he’s learned to help the small town of Hope before he dies.

Alpha Crowley Lomond, Zenith of the Americas, isn’t exactly happy with his ascension. Leading isn’t the problem, it’s acting like he’s somehow better than every other shifter that chafes. But while living and working beside them may seem noble, Crowley is more than just an alpha. As Zenith, he’s their example, their teacher and guide, and the one they will turn to when their way of life is threatened.

Meeting changes them in ways they never could have predicted and unveils a web of deceit that began long before they were born. Together, they will have to unravel the lies and reconcile the consequences if they are to protect the shifter way of life. Along the way, Crowley will become the Zenith his Kindred was born to love and their enemies will learn that there’s nothing more dangerous than fated mates.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Jessie G. has created a fascinating setting. After a war between shifters and humans in the middle of the 20th century, and uneasy peace has been established, but shifters are definitely in the minority. The present-day setting of the story is a nice twist on the reality we know with specific differences due to the world’s history that make the reader want to know more. The story unfolds to include a worldwide conspiracy, a prophecy, and hints of great things occurring as each of the three Zeniths find their Kindred, their soul mate.

Let’s see, we have:
☑️ Hurt/Comfort
☑️ Fated mates
☑️ “You’re actually a shifter!” (oh come on, that can’t possibly be a spoiler)

This should have been right up my alley. What happened?

The first problem is pacing. The story starts off quickly, reaches a critical point, and…bogs down in exposition. From there the story lurches along, bouncing jarringly from action to exposition. I get that there is a whole lot of world-building going on here and that a lot of the exposition is necessary, but some of that might have been better shown than told.

The other problem that I had was that while I had a good handle on Holden as a character, his background, and what his motivations might be, Crowley was less clear. We find out more about his background late in the story, but by that point I was frustrated and confused. Finally, a couple of plot points seemed to get muddled and I was left at the end of the book with a lot of unanswered questions unrelated to any promise of sequels.

That all sounds pretty harsh, but probably only because I wanted this book to be better than it was. There’s a lot of great stuff here: a fantastic setting, interesting conflicts between shifters and humans (and others!), and intriguing characters. It just didn’t quite come together as well as I’d hoped. Will I pick up the sequel, though? Absolutely. I’m very interested to see what Jessie G. has in store for this world!

Book Review: In This Iron Ground, by Marina Vivancos

Damien is nine years old when his parents die. What should have been the worst moment of his life begins a journey shadowed by loneliness and pain. The night of a full moon, four years and seven foster homes later, Damien flees to the forest, desperate to escape everything.

Instead, he finds the Salgado pack, and the earth beneath his feet shifts. Damien has seen the Salgado children in his school: Koko, who is in his class, and Hakan, two years older and infinitely unreachable. Damien is suddenly introduced into a world that had only ever existed in his imagination, where there is magic in the forest and the moon. He meets creatures that look like monsters, but Damien knows that monsters have the same face as anybody else.

Over the years, Damien and Hakan grow closer. First, just as friends and foster brothers in the Salgado house, and then into something heated and breathless when Damien joins Hakan at college. Despite what he may yearn for in the darkest part of the night, Damien knows, deep down in that bruised and mealy part of his core, that he’s not good enough to be part of the Salgado family, their pack. He’s not worthy of calling Hakan his home.

Even though he knows in the end it’ll hurt him, he’ll hold onto this for as long as he can.

In This Iron Ground, by Marina Vivancos

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

This is one of those books that’s something of a rough read, but in the end is so, so worth it. Young Damien is a pawn of the foster care system. He bounces from home to home, then the bad situation is made worse when he is placed with a foster carers (not parents, never parents) who don’t know how to deal with a rambunctious 13-year-old, and resort to abusive behavior to keep him from upsetting their lives too much. This is so painful to read, as we see Damien taught that this is all he is worth, an afterthought, an outcast. Hope is the enemy because it only brings pain.

The story is told from Damien’s point of view, and the matter-of-fact statements of his own low estimation of his worth are made all the more visceral by this. The other characters are defined through Damien’s eyes. Seeing them change over the years, how the relationships with his family and friends change, and how this affects Damien are a big part of the story.

Surprisingly, the fact that the Salgados are werewolves is almost peripheral to the overall story, though it brings profound definitions of family, belonging, and spiritual balance into stark reality. Damien’s matter-of-fact acceptance of werewolves is amusing, rationalizing that werewolves are good or evil as much as humans are good or evil – the definition is in their actions, not their being. His isolation is emphasized, though, as he feels that as a human, he is a friend of the pack but can never truly be a part of it.

Vivancos’ writing can be straightforward, but in some of Damien’s early trauma the writing is almost impressionistic, leaving the reader as unsure of reality or fantasy as Damien is. The extended passages of a college-age Damien speaking with a therapist as he strives to find personal balance are absolutely spot-on. Honestly, I recognize some approaches and techniques I’ve discussed with my own therapist (though for very different reasons). This really made the book personal for me, and is one of the reasons I loved it so much. The fact that the ending made me cry (in a happy way!) didn’t hurt either.

I highly recommend this book. It can be a rough ride emotionally, but the journey is absolutely worth it!

Audiobook Review: Bonfires, by Amy Lane, performed by Nick J. Russo

Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron-who thought life began and ended with his kids-is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.

Larx has been living for his kids too-and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.

It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

This was such a great book, and the audiobook was a treat! Amy Lane excels with stories of gentle courtships and characters who are willing to overcome initial awkwardness to create a beautiful relationship. The fact that these two are approaching 50 speaks to me, and Lane nails the confusion at feelings of attraction and romance, thought left behind decades ago, which are suddenly a part of their lives again. I also appreciate that she avoids the awful “Gay For You” trope (“I have never been gay until I met you!”), despite having main characters who are heterosexual to all outside appearances.

Larx is the one with the most to lose. He’s deeply closeted, being a high school principal in a small town. It becomes apparent that he has quite a bad-boy history behind him and the fact that he has (unwillingly) risen in the school administration is amusing. He is usually diplomatic and deliberate, but when crossed he’s not afraid to fight. He is everything I would ever want in a teacher – smart, thoughtful, and empathetic. In other words, outstanding boyfriend material as well!

Aaron is a widower who has had ten years of recovering from his beloved wife’s passing (a personal side note: I hope I am in as good a place ten years on). He has a quiet life, a good job, and a steady routine. The sheriff is thinking about retiring and thinks Aaron would be the best candidate for the job. He’s always known he was bisexual, but never really acted on it. Suddenly he has found someone who pushes all of his buttons, and watching him work himself up to confront Larx is funny and sweet. When Larx’ wild side comes out, rock-steady Aaron is the perfect foil.

And then there’s the rest of the cast, and there are quite a few! I adored that the teenagers, Aaron’s Kirby and Larx’ Christiana, aren’t just window dressing, but smart, funny kids who play an important part in the men’s lives. Yoshi, Larx’ vice principal and best friend, is a complete smartass, and a welcome sounding board. Sherriff Mills, Aaron’s boss who supports him in all things, is a voice of reason and support who is there when Aaron him.

As in other of Lane’s books (especially the Promises series, which I loved), there’s a whole lot going on in the background, from small-town racism and homophobia, to students on the cusp of coming out, and a murder mystery as well. It all ties together nicely in the end, and while some of the drama is slightly overwrought the rest of the story was so good I had no problem with it.

This is the first audiobook by Nick J. Russo that I’ve listened to and it certainly won’t be the last! His delivery and intonation is perfect for the story, keeping the individual voices of the characters separate and easy to identify, and really capturing the individual speech patterns and inflections. His work made an excellent book really outstanding.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read/listened to this year. The great, relatable characters and excellent performance make this an easy book and audiobook to highly recommend.

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!

Audiobook Review: The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies #1), by K. J. Charles, performed by Cornell Collins

Exiled to China for twenty years, Lucien Vaudrey never planned to return to England. But with the mysterious deaths of his father and brother, it seems the new Lord Crane has inherited an earldom. He’s also inherited his family’s enemies. He needs magical assistance, fast. He doesn’t expect it to turn up angry.

Magician Stephen Day has good reason to hate Crane’s family. Unfortunately, it’s his job to deal with supernatural threats. Besides, the earl is unlike any aristocrat he’s ever met, with the tattoos, the attitude… and the way Crane seems determined to get him into bed. That’s definitely unusual.

Soon Stephen is falling hard for the worst possible man, at the worst possible time. But Crane’s dangerous appeal isn’t the only thing rendering Stephen powerless. Evil pervades the house, a web of plots is closing round Crane, and if Stephen can’t find a way through it-they’re both going to die.

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies #1), by K. J. Charles

Story: 4.75 out of 5
Audiobook Performance: 5 out of 5

I’m normally not one for historical romances, particularly those set in Victorian England, due to the inescapable undercurrent of homophobia that is typically part of the story. K. J. Charles’ incredible writing got me past that though, and I’m very glad! We have some memorable characters here, as well as a good bit of dry wit, and some very steamy encounters! This England is very similar to our historical one, except here magic (as used by “practitioners”) exists, though it is not particularly common.

In the character of Lord Crane, Charles has created someone who completely breaks the mold of the Victorian upper class. He is a tradesman (gasp!) with an egalitarian outlook and very little patience with the fripperies of the noble class. Crane is aided by his manservant Merrick, who can equally serve a cup of tea or break a man’s legs, as needed. Stephen Day is from a different world entirely. His family was of modest means until their fortunes were destroyed by Crane’s father. He now earns a meagre living as a justiciar, the small police force charged with keeping practitioners in line. He is a deeply intelligent man and a powerful practitioner, though one would not think so to look upon him. Much of the action takes place at Piper, the Crane family home in the country. It is a bleak and oppressive place, almost a character itself as it provides an absolutely perfect setting for the shadowy doings menacing Crane and Stephen.

What really struck me about this book was the story structure and plotting. Just when it seems all mysteries have been wrapped up we find there are more to be unraveled, and when the final plot is laid out it is stunning in its intricacy. This is great writing, and this is what is keeping me coming back for more (I am working my way through the series and they are all excellent so far!).

The audiobook is by Cornell Collins (a pseudonym of the very talented Matthew Lloyd Davies), whose performance took an excellent story and elevated it further. His British accent alone is a good fit, but the variation of accents by the class of the character (from street urchin to lords and ladies) brings the story to life and make these characters relatable. Collins/Davies’ work is one of the best audiobook performances I’ve heard so far, and I really enjoyed it.

It is notable that the sex scenes in this book have elements of dominance and submission. While that’s not usually my thing, they are written with a sensitivity and care that help the reader understand where the motivations are coming from. I was able to sympathize…and also enjoy the scenes because they are damn hot!

If you like intricate plots, complex characters, and paranormal romance, this is absolutely the book for you! I would recommend this one 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: Wolf Around the Corner, by Aidee Ladnier

Tom Davidson ran away from family obligations to be a Broadway star. If he could make it there, he could make it anywhere…but he didn’t. Trudging back home to Waycroft Falls, he finds his sister Annie and her hometown bookstore in danger of folding. Her solution: open the upstairs of the historic building as a performance venue. Putting on a play should be a piece of cake for her famous New York actor brother.

Frank Braden lost the genetic lottery and got the family werewolf curse. Kicked out of his home for the triple threat of being gay, a werewolf, and a drain on his widowed father’s new family, he settled in Waycroft Falls to make as inconspicuous a life as possible working in Annie’s bookstore. Until her gorgeous younger brother comes to town and literally needs a beast for his play.

Tom breaks out the charm to convince Frank he’s key to the success of the bookshop’s theatrical version of Beauty and the Beast. Frank loves the bookstore, is hotter than sin, and has the perfect solution to Tom’s stage makeup conundrum. Who better to play the Beast than a guy who can turn into one?

Wolf Around the Corner, by Aidee Ladnier

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wow, now this was something refreshingly different from the (entirely too many shut up quit looking at me like that) werewolf books that I have read. Here, lycanthropy, called “Galen’s Syndrome,” after the ancient physician who discovered it, is a recessive hereditary gene that only manifests when the parents share the gene. There’s a bit of hand-waving with a bit of magic involved but that’s less important. It’s a very rare condition, and one that is not well-known to the general public.

Galen’s aside, this is a very sweet story of a shy, thoughtful guy who’s dealing with a lifetime of rejection and small-town boy who went off to New York City to find his fortune and fame and is ashamed to admit that his most notable role was Guy in the Chorus #6 and that he sleeps on his friends’ sofa because he can’t afford even a crappy apartment. Tom is a smart, funny, and charming guy who is great at putting on a good front – hey, he’s an actor, right? Frank is much quieter, an introvert who has had a rough life and is only just starting to find friends and self-confidence again. He’s sweet and gentle, yet has been told over and over that his wolf is dangerous, whether that’s true or not.

What follows is the typical push and pull – big-city guy falling for small-town guy, guilty secrets, the dramatic tension of whether they can make the play work. This is well written, and I was cheering for Tom and Frank all the way. There’s easy parallels to be found between homophobia (which is also present) and fear of Galen’s syndrome, but Ladinier doesn’t make too much of them.

The one place where I think the novel fell down a bit was in pacing. In any romance story, there’s usually the will-they-get-together-or-won’t-they (spoiler: they always do) but that got a little drawn out here. Also, I never really got a sense of place for Waycroft Falls, which given the role that the town plays toward the end of the book is sort of surprising. For some reason, I spent the first half of the book thinking it was in upstate New York, but later it’s stated that they are in the South, with vague references to Atlanta.

This isn’t high drama, but a lovely small-town romance with likeable characters and a unique view of werewolves. I definitely recommend this one!

Book Review: Rome and Jules, by Tara Lain

Rome Siracusa, youngest son of the alpha of the nouveau-riche Siracusa pack, wants to be a faithful son and pack member, but he’s got two big secrets. One, he’s blessed with enhanced hearing, vision, strength, and the ability to shift at will. Second, he’s gay, a fact he can’t admit to his deadly homophobic father.

Rome crashes a party at the mansion of his pack’s greatest enemy, the ancient, pure-blooded Havillands. Jules, the gay son of the drunkard alpha, is being married off to a rich entrepreneur. Smitten and moved by the beautiful male’s plight, Rome tries to find a way to save Jules-while digging himself deeper into pack politics and navigating his own arranged marriage. Secrets climb out of the caves as the werewolf gods speak through the mouths of their children, and the two great families clash, suffocating the hopes of star-crossed lovers.

Rome and Jules, by Tara Lain

Rating: 4 out of 5

I tend to run hot and cold on retellings of well-worn tales, but when done well it can be quite enjoyable. Lain does a great job here, relying on some of the Romeo and Juliet tropes that the reader knows going in but adding an additional spin as well – more than just making everybody werewolves, of course!

There’s not a lot of world-building here, but it’s not really necessary since the story takes place entirely within a walled upper-class werewolf community in Rhode Island. As in the original R&J, the dramatic conflict is almost all due to the inter- and intra-family politics, with a strong touch of The Godfather incongruously added to the mix. Homophobia plays a large role as well, with the Siracusa pack being utterly unwilling to countenance a gay pack member. The Havillands have no such issue but have plenty of problems of their own, with Jules expected to shut up and play his role for the good of his pack.

The point of view shifts between Jules and Rome throughout the book, and I had a good feel for each of them, how they were very different men yet complimented each other well. The earnestness between the two was well-written and incredibly sweet. The dramatic tension runs high as they race against time to find a future together. Even when all seems lost, they find a happy ending (sorry, I’m not even going to pretend that’s a spoiler) which left me a little skeptical, but was helped by a nice bit of foreshadowing. Obviously, the story takes a hard turn away from the traditional tragedy at the end, but I enjoyed the twist even so.

This is quite an enjoyable (if slightly fluffy) read. I recommend it!

Book Review: Ghost Wolf, by Hurri Cosmos

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, Ghost Wolf to the rescue.

2.25 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Blackbird in the Reeds, by Sam Burns

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

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

Blackbird in the Reeds, by Sam Burns

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 out of 5!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Breaking the Ice, by Tali Spencer

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

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

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

Breaking the Ice, by Tali Spencer

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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!

2017: A Year In Books

As I did last year, I wanted to recap my reading from 2017 in a single post, and mention books I thought really stood out to me. I have been reading exclusively books in the M/M Romance genre because I find them extremely enjoyable. I have a gut reaction to try to defend this statement and the genre, but that’s silly. I think these books immensely rewarding, and they contain some of the finest writing I have ever come across in any genre. Finally, I note these are books I read in 2017, but are not limited to books published in 2017. To start off, we have the statistics:

Out of 110 books read, my Goodreads ratings were:
Did Not Finish – 4
1 out of 5 – 0
2 out of 5 – 3
3 out of 5 – 14
4 out of 5 – 53
5 out of 5 – 36

As I noted previously, the low number of stinkers have a lot to do with the fact that I have a low-water mark of a 3.65 rating on Goodreads (with at least 100 reviews) – anything with a rating under that had better have an amazing blurb to get me to read it. Of the books I did not finish, two were Just That Awful and two were “It’s not you, it’s me.” (i.e. probably good books, but not to my tastes at all).

Enough of the bad, let’s talk about the good.

The hurt/comfort trope, in which the physical or mental distress of one character is eased by another character, is a common one in fiction. An extreme example of this is Aaron, by J.P. Barnaby. I am glad that I listened to this audiobook because reading the physical book would have been difficult. It tells the story of Aaron, a recovering survivor of sexual abuse and violence, as he struggles to come out of the protective shell he and his family have created. He meets Spencer, a deaf man who is trying to make his way in a hearing world. The interactions between the two and their families are an incredible story. The description of what happened to Aaron is harrowing, and the author makes us understand what it is to deal with the aftermath. The audiobook is performed by Tyler Stevens, and he nails the characters and the overall tone of the book perfectly. This one is simply a stunner.

The hurt/comfort trope is also prevalent in Alex Jane’s Home Is Where You Are. The story takes place in an alternate-history Nebraska in the 1870’s. It gave me warm, fuzzy feelings and not just because of the werewolves who are the main characters. Caleb is a former Union soldier. He left his family behind abruptly when he went off to war, and saw and survived the absolute worst. Now, years later, he lives an isolated life, fighting PTSD and barely tolerated by his neighbors. Jacob’s arrival changes all of that. There is a quality to this writing that I enjoyed – matter-of-fact in describing about the harsh realities of hardscrabble life in the Great Plains, but also showing thoughtful insight into the main characters. All three of the books that are out now are great (Returning Home and Longing for Shelter, with a fourth book on the way).

In another alternate history, Hexslayer, by Jordan L. Hawk, takes us to New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. This is the third book in the Hexworld series, and takes place in a world of policemen who use magic in conjunction with their shapeshifting familiars. There is so much to love here – the gloomy atmosphere, the steadily mounting narrative tension, and in Jamie and Nick two intriguing characters. Several narrative threads from previous books start to come together here in a satisfying way that left me looking forward to more.

Moving into the present day, the Guardsman series by Cooper West (The Protector and Parker’s Sanctuary) brings us to an alternate reality similar to our own, but where a very small percentage of the population become Guardsman, a weredog (“Protector”) and a human “Handler” who share a mental bond. West has created a world of remarkable detail here, and the populated it with memorable characters. The descriptions of how Protectors and Handlers are represented in popular culture are clever, and follow logically. These are well-written and I look forward to the next book.

N.R. Walker’s The Weight of It All, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in the reality of the here and now, albeit in Australia (which I am told exists…). This is a lovely story of a guy who gets dumped because he’s too fat, so he joins a gym and falls for his trainer. This is a gross oversimplification of a sweet, hilariously funny book that is written with sensitivity and empathy. Henry is a guy who creates a wall of self-deprecating humor and isolation around himself to hide his lack of self-esteem. Reed, his trainer, is the perfect foil for Henry – serious, at times nonplussed, but slowly falling for Henry as the walls Henry has built start to fall. Joel Leslie performs the audiobook brilliantly. The tremulous emotion that Leslie’s voice carries as Henry agonizes over his life is heartbreaking; the elation in Henry’s successes is thrilling and contagious. This is by far the best audiobook I listened to this year!

Finally, we get to the favorite book that I read in 2017: G.L. Carriger’s The Sumage Solution. 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. The best part of the book is the characters, though. Max is a guy who has been through a lot but still maintains a snarky wit. Bryan is a complete sweetheart and a gentle giant. They make a great couple, and make this a supremely satisfying story.

It was difficult to select the just top six books. I want to give honorable mention to some of the other really great books I read (links are to the reviews I wrote): Breaker, by Kelly Wyre and A.F. Henley; Lord Mouse, by Mason Thomas; Murmuration, by T.J. Klune; and Finder’s Keeper, by Shira Anthony.

I wanted to also single out a couple of other books for a different reason. Some, but not all, M/M romances veer into the territory of erotica. Werewolves of Chernobyl by K.A. Merikan and The Protection of the Pack series by Dessa Lux are both SMOKING hot, but at the same time have wonderful narrative wit and don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re really fun reads.

Looking ahead to 2018, I have at least a dozen books I’ve purchased but haven’t read yet, and at least another hundred books on my to-read list. I’ve got enough to keep me busy for a while!

Book Review: The Storm Lords, by Ravon Silvius

The heat took everything from Rowen: his parents, his voice when the local cure for heatstroke poisoned him, and the trust of his fellow villagers, who branded him a water thief. It would have claimed his life when he was deemed unworthy of precious resources and left in the sun to die, had not a strange man named Kristoff ridden in on the wind and told Rowen he had power.

Rowen works hard to become a Storm Lord, one of a secret magical group that brings storms to break the heat waves overtaking their world. But Rowen is starting his training at a disadvantage since he cannot speak and is much older than the other novices. The desire to please Kristoff inspires him to persevere even more than the threat of being sent back to his village to die should he fail. Still, he cannot gather rain, and when his abilities manifest, they are unlike anything known to the Storm Lords. Unless Kristoff can help him control his deadly powers, the entire world will be in danger.

Kristoff might be among the mightiest of the Storm Lords, but he’s never been a mentor before. For a chance to be with Rowen, he’s willing to risk everything.

The Storm Lords, by Ravon Silvius

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

I liked this book but I didn’t love it. There is a fantastic bit of world-building going on here. I really enjoyed that part. The abilities of the Storm Lords were fascinating and the meteorological science behind it all was reasonable to this non-expert. I could see how a lot of that could be a turnoff for others but hey – I’m an engineer and this is how I think anyway.

My problems with this book lay with the characters, I think. We get an understanding of Rowen and where he is coming from early on. I liked his tenacity and willingness to persevere through the worst hardships, and I also liked how the author showed the effects of his struggles on Rowen when he was suddenly somewhere where water was abundant. Kristoff is the one I had more problems with. The depth of his emotions for Rowen seemed out of sync with the short time that they spent together. There didn’t seem to be much as I would have liked in his backstory that explained why he fell in love so quickly.

I did like the logical conclusion that the story reached, and this allowed me to see past some of the flaws previously in the story. I’d recommend this one for an enjoyable read, and maybe another reader can get more out of it than I did.

Book Review: Familiar, by M.L. Rhodes


Emrys Andrews lives in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts. In school he was never part of the popular “in” crowd, but he always had good friends and was generally known as a fun-loving, nice-guy geek. A label that followed him into adulthood. He just has one little problem. A secret he’s managed to keep from his friends and the world in general. You see, he’s descended from a long, esteemed line of honest-to-goodness, magick-wielding witches. Which wouldn’t be so bad, except, while the rest of his family members totally rock the witch power, Emrys…doesn’t. Any time he tries to do magick, anything that can go wrong, usually does. He’s left a trail of magickal disaster in his wake all his life, so now, for everyone’s safety, he tries to avoid his powers at all costs.

David Jennings is everything Emrys is not-gorgeous, sexy, popular, athletic, and a perfectly normal non-magick person. Despite the fact Emrys is sure David’s out of his league, and possibly straight, all it takes is one look into David’s soulful blue eyes and Emrys is a goner. He keeps his crush quiet for years, however, because his magick is usually at its worst when he’s emotional or when his adrenaline is pumping, and around David, he can’t control either.

When an unexpected encounter finally throws them together, Emrys discovers he’s not the only one who’s been fantasizing from afar. David’s been harboring feelings for Emrys for years, too. Unfortunately, David’s family also has secrets. The kind that can get anyone who knows too much…very much dead. With David’s life on the line and his past doing its best to tear them apart and keep them that way, and magick the only apparent solution, Emrys has to get control of his power once and for all if he wants to save the man who’s always been his destiny. But the tricky part is, he can’t do it without David’s help…

Familiar, by M. L. Rhodes

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This is one where I’m going to say that my rating applies to me specifically, but may not apply to everyone. I’ll explain why below.

This isn’t a particularly complicated story, but it’s a case where the beauty is in the telling. Looking back, a large portion of the story is spent on a single night, but it’s a very eventful and consequential night for both Emrys and David. There’s a bit of insta-love, and the concept of finding one’s soul mate is involved. I’m kind of a sucker for that trope, so I’ll allow it.

Emrys and David are so incredibly sweet together. Emrys suffers from low self-esteem and is very unsure of himself. In spite of this he is a sweet and caring man, willing to help others (points to the author for mostly showing, not telling this). David balances Emrys well. Despite his difficult family life he has confidence in who he is and what he wants. The banter between these two is what sold this book to me, and melted my heart. It reminded me very much of how my late husband and I used to talk. This made me smile so much.

If I had any complaint about the book it’s that the ending seemed a bit rushed, given all of the buildup of the events throughout the book. It followed logically from the rest of the story, though, so it worked for me overall. The ending is gloriously sweet and left me in happy tears.

I liked this one a lot! Recommended.

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!

Book Review: Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists, by Angel Martinez

A poltergeist haunts Taro, dogging his international travels. It washes glasses, puts dishes away, and even dusts. At least he hopes it’s a cleaning-obsessed poltergeist and not his own anxieties burbling over into neat freak fits he doesn’t remember. When his property manager suggests he call paranormal expert, Jack Montrose, Taro’s skeptical but desperate enough to try even a ghost hunter.

Jack’s arrival crushes Taro’s hopes of a dashing Van Helsing-style hero. Instead of an invincible hunter, he gets Ichabod Crane. As the paranormal puzzles multiply and Jack begins to suggest the entity might not be a ghostly one, Taro adds a budding friendship with Jack to his pile of anxieties. It’s a race to see whether Taro’s poltergeist or his relationship with the obviously-not-ace Jack will reach maximum strangeness first.

Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists, by Angel Martinez

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

I adored this book! Taro is kind of a mess, but he clearly has a good heart and is working really hard to get past his insecurities. Jack is a mess in his own way, though I didn’t think we got a clear picture of his motivations, which is the only reason this isn’t rated 5 stars. Hey, maybe in the sequel…?

I enjoyed these characters and the interactions between them. The story was an engaging, though low-stakes, mystery. The side characters were a hoot, too – Frau Voss, Taro’s brothers, and Taro’s parents (his father cracked me up, a perfect foil for his mother).

Finally, I am also always cheered to see a sensitive, thoughtful treatment of asexual characters, and I think Martinez did a good job of that here. The difficulties of broaching the topic and having to explain it over and over are included here and handled in a forthright and honest manner. I just wanted to grab Taro and hug him!

I recommend this book to anyone for a light, enjoyable read!

(Side note: I came across a comment that referring to m/m romances as gay romances effectively erases bi, pan, ace, and other sexualities. I admit this never occurred to me before, but in the future I will drop the use of “gay” as an interchangeable term for “m/m” in my reviews.)

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: 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: Wolf, in League, by A. F. Henley

 

Wolf, in League (Wolf, Book 3), by A.F. Henley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wolf, in League follows the progression of Wolf, WY (a local setting), then Wolf, en Garde (a national setting), by expanding the story of wolves, vampires, and more to world-wide in scope, and it does it in grand style.

I will say up-front that vampires simply don’t interest me. Werewolves, heck yeah – vampires, zombies, and other undead things, not so much. Setting aside that preference, though, the relationship between Matthew and Gavin is wonderful to watch develop. I found Matthew extremely relatable, although it didn’t hurt that the story is told mostly from his point of view. Even so, he’s a complex, intelligent, and thoughtful character.

Gavin is a bit harder to read (intentionally so), and if I have any complaint it would be that it would be nice to know more of his history. I could see how that could slow the overall story down, though. Much of his behavior is attributable to his affliction, but as the story plays out we find there is much more to it than that.

I liked that Matthew takes time to come to grips with his feelings towards Gavin. He’s forced into a difficult situation and being pulled in multiple directions. The rush of feelings when the dam breaks, though, is gratifying. I can’t say that I found Matthew and Gavin as sympathetic a couple as Vaughn and Randy or Lyle and Rafe, but that could be due to the whole vampire   thing.

One thing I loved about this book is that the story moves along at a steady clip. Starting
within the familiar setting we left at the end of en Garde, step by step we learn that the world is a much scarier place than originally thought. There are conspiracies on multiple fronts and it is up to the characters, new and old favorites, to uncover them. This all builds to a conclusion that creates a whole new setting for future books – books that I definitely look forward to reading!

Side note: huge props for dropping “Not all vampires” into the dialogue, too (vampsplaining?). This cracked me up so much!

Book Review: Wolf, en Garde, by A.F. Henley

 

image

Wolf, en Garde (Wolf #2) by A.F. Henley (with fabulous cover design by Drawboy)

Three years ago Lyle made a mistake that cost him his freedom, and almost his life. Now, sick to death of watching his father love the man that Lyle wanted, Lyle accepts an offer to leave Wolf, WY behind and see what life in Washington, D.C. can do for him instead.

When Lyle comes across a seductive, attractive stranger with a fascinating yet terrifying view of humanity, he’s more than intrigued. It doesn’t take Lyle long to realize that Arius isn’t just playing games, though, and when Lyle runs across a secret in Arius’ lair he has no choice but to flee, even knowing his actions will enrage Arius.

On the run, with only a psychic’s second sight and his own instinct to help him, Lyle has nowhere to go but home. The only question is, will they have him when he shows up.

Oh my gosh, this book. I love it when an author only gets better through a series, and these books are an excellent example of this. My review of the first book in the series, Wolf, WY, was that it was a 4 out of 5, a pretty good book indeed. This one? 5 out of 5, and with good reason. All the issues and concerns that I had by the end of the first book were addressed to my satisfaction in the first few chapters of this one, making Wolf that much more of a satisfying story.

Wolf, en Garde takes up the story of Lyle, a werewolf fighting his way through a difficult time in his life. As he goes off to the big city he finds excitement and some very nasty surprises. I love the fact that although Lyle goes from an initially annoying and petulant character to a sympathetic one by the end of the book, you can always see where he is coming from and what is motivating him.

The plot twists here are great fun, with shifting alliances and shadowy hints of people knowing more than they should. Even better, Henley takes the cozy setting of Wolf, Wyoming from the first book and expands it out with some excellent world building, showing where werewolves (and other beings) fit in modern society and suggesting even greater manipulating forces that the characters still don’t know about. I see it as a narrative tool akin to the blind men and the elephant. As each new piece of information presents itself you are forced to reformulate your view of the world. The slow reveal makes for a great read, though. After a slow buildup, the last part of the book is a hell of a ride!

This book obviously leads directly into the next in the series, Wolf, in League. I will be starting in on that immediately! I definitely recommend the whole series.

 

Book Review: Into This River I Drown, by T.J. Klune

 

Into This River I Drown, by T.J. Klune

At once an exploration of grief and faith, Into This River I Drown is one man’s journey into the secrets of his father and discovering the strength to believe in the impossible.

Five years ago, Benji Green lost his beloved father, Big Eddie, who drowned when his truck crashed into a river. All calledit an accident, but Benji thought it more. However, even years later, he is buried deep in his grief, throwing himself into taking over Big Eddie’s convenience store in the small town of Roseland, Oregon. Surrounded by his mother and three aunts, he lives day by day, struggling to keep his head above water.

But Roseland is no ordinary place.

With ever-increasing dreams of his father’s death and waking visions of feathers on the surface of a river, Benji’s definition of reality is starting to bend. He thinks himself haunted, but whether by ghosts or memories, he can no longer tell. It’s not until the impossible happens and a man falls from the sky and leaves the burning imprint of wings on the ground that he begins to understand that the world around him is more mysterious than he could have possibly imagined. It’s also more dangerous, as forces beyond anyone’s control are descending on Roseland, revealing long hidden truths about friends, family, and the man named Calliel who Benji is finding he can no longer live without.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Staggering. What T.J. Klune does with this book is simply staggering and damn near overwhelming.

The atmosphere and emotions in Into This River are just as much central characters as Benji and Cal. By the end of the book, I could imagine standing at Mile Marker 77 and know what it looks like, how it feels. The grief, pain, hope and love experienced here damn near leave me speechless. As always, I am amazed at the depth of feeling that T.J. Klune can evoke with his writing.

This is a weighty book, and definitely not an easy read (at least it wasn’t for me). I had to take a break and read something a bit lighter every now and then! That said, it was extremely rewarding. I would urge any reader to stick it out through the halfway mark, because the latter half of the book is one hell of a ride.

I am glad that I have read other books by Klune before reading this one. Many of the themes (and indeed phrasing) featured in Wolfsong (reviewed here) are repeated here, though this does not detract in the least – rather, I feel it allows a glimpse into the author’s thinking.

I highly, highly recommend this book. Simply incredible.

Side note: Damn, that cover is great, and so very suited to this book.

Book Review: Hexmaker, by Jordan Hawk

Hexmaker, by Jordan Hawk

A straight-laced policeman. A lighthearted thief. A murdered millionaire.

Fox shifter Malachi steals for one of the biggest crime rings in New York City. But when he witnesses the murder of a millionaire, the only person who can keep him safe is Dr. Owen Yates, forensic hexman for the Metropolitan Witch Police—and Malachi’s witch.

Owen is horrified to discover his familiar is an uneducated thief. Even worse, Malachi
threatens to unleash Owen’s deepest desires…desires Owen can’t act upon, as he’s destined for an arranged marriage to secure the Yates family fortune

Their agreement: Malachi will be Owen’s lover as well as his partner, until the day of the wedding. But as their hunt for the murderer carries them from teeming slums to Fifth Avenue mansions, Owens begins to realize Malachi commands his heart as well as his body.

With dark forces drawing ever closer around them, Owen must decide whether
to bow to the demands of duty, or to risk everything for the man he loves.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

This book gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies, and not just of the foxy variety!

Jordan Hawk created a fascinating world in Hexbreaker, and this book capitalizes on that. I feel like all of the things that left me feeling so-so about the first book have been fixed here, and it makes Hexmaker an outstanding story.

Malachi is a fascinating character, and here we get a full picture of who he is and what his motivations are. Likewise we understand where Owen is coming from, and why he feels bound to make the decisions that he does. In both cases that allows the reader a degree of empathy that really helps make the story resonate. An important motivating factor here is class status, the haves and the have-nots, and the clashes between the two worlds.

One thing that I thought really made the story stand out was the book’s willingness to touch on themes other than the usual “guy meets guy then they jump into the sack.” Themes of dominance and submission and transsexuality are touched on but do not completely drive the story; they are handled intelligently and in a matter-of-fact manner that I found refreshing. Not to say that the fun in the sack wasn’t steamy as hell, because daaaayum! This was the perfect balance of plot and sexytime for my liking, though.

If I have any complaint about this book it’s that once the big reveals happen it gets a little tricky
for the reader to connect all the dots, but it wasn’t as ridiculously convoluted as some that I’ve read. This in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story though. I happily recommend this book to all!

Book Review: Protector of the Alpha, by Parker Williams

Protector of the Alpha, by Parker WIlliams

Adopted at an early age
by a wealthy family, Jake Davis has always seemed to have an easy life.
Even in college he was blessed with good grades and an apparently clear
path to a pro football career. Good thing his best friend keeps hanging
around to keep his head from getting too swollen.

Zakiya
Incekara has always been…odd. Being fluent in six languages and having
a flair for international cooking should open the world to him, but
those skills leave him isolated.

When Jake sees Zak for the
first time, with water beading down his slender form, something inside
him shifts, and it hungers for Zak. To have him. To claim him. And Jake
knows that whatever it is, it won’t be denied.

When they are
approached by a man who claims knowledge of a secret past they share,
Jake and Zak are thrust into a world they would never have believed
existed. The forests of Alaska might seem an odd place to find your
destiny, but these men will meet the challenges head on, as they learn
that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to be Protector of the Alpha.

Rating: 2 out of 5

No. Just no.

It says a lot when the blurb for a book reveals more about a character than you ever learn in the book. This was the case for Zak/Zakiya. It was painful to get through the first 60% of the book. After that I started skimming. I don’t feel like I missed anything.

Ugh, where to begin. Paper-thin characters, cookie-cutter plot, poor pacing…

I think I knew it was all over 23% into the book with this passage:

It
was as if he was seeing Zak through new eyes. The sinew of his neck
begged Jake to bite, to mark. The breeze fluttered through hair that
called to be brushed, to feel the silky strands trailing over Jake’s
body. His cock grew harder as he moved toward Zak. When those beautiful
eyes peered at him from beneath the long lashes, and the upturned lips
gave a shy smile, Jake groaned as he came in his pants.

Really. Really? Really. It doesn’t improve much from there.

The buildup to the finale was tedious, and when they meet the big-baddies? Meh.

I can’t say that I would recommend this book at all.
       

Also posted on Tumblr at: http://ift.tt/2dHEz7g

Book Review: Trust the Focus, by Megan Erickson

 

Trust the Focus (In Focus #1), by Megan Erickson

With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready
for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon.

As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry.

But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion.

Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sometimes you just want to feel good.

I wouldn’t say this is a particularly complex story, but even so I enjoyed it. Justin and Landry are wonderful characters. I really got a good feeling for Justin, how he felt, and how he dealt with his conflicts. I was a little less empathetic with Landry but I still understood where he was coming from and why he responded the way he did.

Megan Erickson’s writing is clear and engaging, though the book has a couple of glaring typos (“seeing the sites” instead of “seeing the sights”, pasta with “muscles” instead of “mussels”). These are just minor complaints, though. I’d recommend this book to anyone who needs a light, enjoyable read with a couple of guys who are easy to like.
Also posted on Tumblr at: http://ift.tt/2dh8zpf

Book Review: Unacceptable Risk, by Kaje Harper (Hidden Wolves, Book 1)

Unacceptable Risk, by Kaje Harper
(Hidden Wolves, Book 1)

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Simon Conley was born a werewolf, making him one of a tiny minority in a sea of vanilla humans. The safety of the pack lies in absolute secrecy, sometimes violently enforced. In a species where pack-members are born and not made, being gay is considered a perversion. So when Simon falls in love with a human man, he’s twice damned. Even his Alpha’s grudging tolerance may not be enough to shield him from the hatred of the other top wolves. Then his lover Paul stumbles across pack secrets Simon was sworn to keep, and if the pack finds out, they may both end up dead.

This book is a reminder that even if you can predict how everything will play out, if the writing is good enough you can still really enjoy the story. This is a story of relationship and pack politics. While it is successful on both fronts, the former is far more enjoyable than the latter. The courtship between Simon and Paul is so sweet, and the push and pull between attraction, fear, and doubt makes for a fascinating dynamic. Paul’s concerns and hesitation especially struck a chord for me. Harper has done a great job in building these characters and their personalities, and indeed constructing a believable niche for werewolves in modern society as well. (Side note: props for either having good knowledge of the day-to-day life and concerns of a veterinarian or doing some really excellent research!)

The pack politics part was the weaker part of the story for me. I was mildly annoyed at the HUGE cast of background characters, all with single short first names that were easy to get confused. This was a minor nitpick since really there are only a few principals that you need to remember. I especially liked Aaron and I look forward to reading more about him later in this series.

As for predictability, about two-thirds through the book I guessed how the critical issues would be resolved. While I was mostly right, there were just enough twists in there to keep things interesting. This was a very entertaining and extremely sexy read! No shyness here, but given the relationship concerns addressed even the intimate moments helped further the plot.

On a side note, I would urge any reader to download the free short story, Unsettled Interlude, that immediately follows the action in the book. It really is more of an epilogue, and actually speaks to a lot of the unresolved concerns I had at the end of the book. That epilogue makes the whole story better. Overall, I really liked this book and will continue to read through the series!

Also posted on Tumblr at: http://ift.tt/2c6VgqA

Book Review: Skin, by Jesse Daro

Skin, by Jesse Daro

Rating: 4 out of 5

Unbeknownst to most of human kind, Chimera Enterprises has resurrected a shape-shifting alien race that sank with the lost continent of Lemuria eons ago: the werekin, beings born with both a human and an animal skin, able to shift between the two at will. Seventeen-year-old Seth Michael Sullivan, a werejaguar, has grown up in the Underground, hiding from the hunters that capture and enslave werekin for Chimera Enterprises. After witnessing the murder of his guardian Naomi, Seth arrives in Fairfax, Indiana, on a snowy New Year’s Eve, a rare breed on the run. As he reconnects with the mother and sister who know nothing of his true identity, Seth discovers he is a key piece in Chimera’s plot to conquer humankind by securing the power of the werekin Totems – and uncovers a secret in his own past that could decide the fate of his kindred.

Top-secret scientific experiments, ancient alien technology, a powerful shadow organization inside the United States military – Seth soon finds himself at the center of a brewing interspecies war. Can he trust his own flesh and blood? Will he choose to stand with humankind or with his werekin kindred – especially when the best part of being human may be Marshall Townsend, the boy next door? 

What an unexpected treat!

From past experiences, I’m a little gun-shy about free, self-published books. Usually they are in need of heavy editing and have a myriad of problems with characters, plot, and setting. I’m pleased to say that (almost) none of that is present in this book, and what little there is does not get in the way of an exciting read.

Daro has done a fine job of world-building here. The ramifications of historical actions are played out in a logical manner, and this makes the world very believable. My only complaint here is that some of the mythical backstory is a little mushy and unclear, but other than that I really enjoyed the setup.

The characters here are believable, and there are quite a few! I admit I sometimes got a little lost toward the end trying to make sense of the cast. I really liked Seth, the main character, a werejaguar. The author falls a bit into the trope of one’s animal influencing the human’s actions and behaviors, but that’s a minor quibble. As a teenager Seth is a smart-aleck know-it-all, though as the book progresses he starts to get his head in order and this makes him a much more sympathetic character. Marshall, his love interest, is a little one-dimensional but we get a pretty clear idea of what his motivations may be. The rest of the cast is a fun collection of characters, and the shifting allegiances (and sudden reveals) definitely keep the reader guessing.

The plotting here is more than a little convoluted. I suspect a professional editor might suggest reducing the twists and turns just a bit, but it is a fun ride that was anything but predictable. The mix of mundane high-school life and high-stakes life-or-death action can be a little jarring at times, though.

I think that the first chapter is worthy of mention. It’s tough to bring a reader into a story from the very first words, and even tougher to throw them right into the middle of the action. The first chapter of this book is one of the best at this that I have seen and is worthy of any professionally-written novel.

Finally, I came by this book in a list of gay romances (and a recommended book at that). While it has gay characters and a budding romance, the interactions on that front are strictly G-rated. I would say that this is a great urban fantasy that happens to have gay characters. (Oddly, I’ve also seen it classified as Young Adult – as near as I can tell YA in this context is “Yeah, they’re gay, but they don’t have sex.” This seems weirdly different from the mainstream definition of YA, but there ya go.)

Skin is the first of The Ark Trilogy (Skin, Blood, Bones), all of which are downloadable for free from Goodreads. I look forward to reading the rest of the books!

Also posted on Tumblr at: http://ift.tt/2byNJzK

Book Review: How To Be a Normal Person, by T.J. Klune

How To Be a Normal Person, by T.J. Klune

Gustavo Tiberius is not normal. He knows this. Everyone in his small town of Abby, Oregon, knows this. He reads encyclopedias every night before bed. He has a pet ferret called Harry S.  Truman. He owns a video rental store that no one goes to. His closest friends are a lady named Lottie with drag queen hair and a trio of elderly Vespa riders known as the We Three Queens.

Gus is not normal. And he’s fine with that. All he wants is to be left alone.

Until Casey, an asexual stoner hipster and the newest employee at Lottie’s Lattes, enters his life. For some reason, Casey thinks Gus is the greatest thing ever. And maybe Gus is starting to think the same thing about Casey, even if Casey is obsessive about Instagramming his food.

But Gus isn’t normal and Casey deserves someone who can be. Suddenly wanting to be that someone, Gus steps out of his comfort zone and plans to become the most normal person ever.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

I loved this book so much. Gus and Casey are not particularly likable characters at the beginning of the book, but as the story progresses and we learn more about them and what makes them tick, they become utterly endearing.

This is a character-driven story, which is to say not much happens and yet you don’t need tremendous, earth-shaking events to tell a good story. This is a cozy tale of a guy who isn’t as
curmudgeonly as he thinks he is learning how to love someone, although in the most hysterical way possible.

Having read Klune’s The Lightning-Struck Heart, I am well aware of (and greatly appreciate) his amusing, fourth-wall-breaking humor. This, coupled with Gus’ sarcastic commentary, had me giggling most of the way through this book. Even so, I became emotionally invested in Gus and Casey, and even cried a few times as they worked through their relationship.

Casey is asexual, and I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate that TJ stays true to this. Asexuality is something that I am only learning more about now, but as a gay man I think it would be incredibly hypocritical of me to even begin to question let alone define other’s sexual identities. This is a well-written depiction (as far as I know) and helped me appreciate the concept more as well.

So yes, a book that is nominally within the m/m romance genre where no one is getting down and dirty, and Tab A isn’t getting inserted in Slot B? Yes, it CAN happen, and the book suffers not one whit for the lack. When Gus works himself up to going in for a hug with Casey without even asking? That was utterly adorable and made the book for me.

This is definitely one of my favorites by TJ so far!

Book Review: Axel’s Pup, by Kim Dare

Axel’s Pup, by Kim Dare

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

As the landlord of The
Dragon’s Lair and leader of The Black Dragons Motorcycle Club, Axel
Carmichael has seen it all and done it all. He’s a respected and
experienced dom. Nothing shocks him any more, and nobody catches him off
guard.

When Bayden rides up to The Dragon’s Lair on a bike worth
more than most men earn in a year, and immediately demonstrates that he
has far more attitude than sense, it’s easy for Axel to write him off
as a silly little rich boy who’s about to get himself killed.

But, there’s more to Bayden than meets the eye. He’s no silly little boy, rich or otherwise, and werewolves aren’t easy to kill.

Part of the trick to reviewing anything is to recognize when something is good even if you didn’t necessarily enjoy it. This book was a bit of a slow read for me because it didn’t engage me like many others do. That is most likely due to the main subject, the dom/sub relationship. That, and BDSM in general, are not to my taste at all, so this was definitely a read that was far afield for me. We all have our different interests, though. I try to live by “Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK.”

This concern aside, Kim Dare has created a fascinating world with this book, one that I would love to see more of. This is a world where werewolves and humans live side by side, yet due to an event sometime in the past wolves have been relegated to second-class citizen status. Anti-pack laws mean that wolves are not allowed to congregate or have distinct last names. They are regarded by humans as dirty and lazy, and are an oppressed minority, subject to random stop and harassment (or worse) by police. In spite of this, wolves remain a proud and fiercely independent people.

The racial and economic parallels to our reality are inescapable, of course, but that is not the focus of the story. Instead, this setting provides an interesting context for a human dominant, wolf submissive relationship. The narrative point of view switches between the dom (Axel) and the sub (Bayden), providing a balanced viewpoint as the story proceeds.

This is very definitely a character-driven story; there is not much action here. The focus is on the developing relationship between Axel and Bayden. And therein lies the problem – we get a lot of background on Bayden (who I found a fascinating character), but I never felt (until very late in the book) that we understood what motivates Axel, and even after some details are revealed no connection is made between his history and his motivations.

If there is not much in the way of plot development, that void is certainly filled by many, many sex scenes. Mind you, I do love a good, well-written scene, but by the latter third of the book I was starting to skim them because things were getting a bit repetitious, or delving into specific bondage techniques I don’t really care about. I can’t vouch for the dom/sub mind-sets or mental spaces in which the characters reside. I would be curious to see the opinion of someone more familiar with the BDSM lifestyle.

I can’t say I’d pursue other BDSM-based books that Dare has written, but I’d be interested to read other topics from her. The writing is solid, even if the character development may need some work.

Also posted on Tumblr at: http://ift.tt/2biugjq

Book Review: Soul Seekers by Jake C. Wallace

Soul Seekers by Jake C. Wallace

Nineteen-year-old
college student Levi Reed has spent his life with hollow emotions and a
darkness so deep that he’s convinced he’s losing his mind. He’d give
anything to feel something, anything, real.

When a mysterious
stranger appears, Levi is convinced the man is trying to kill him. When
he’s near, Levi experiences head-crushing pain and something
surprising—real emotions for the first time. Jeb Monroe is arrogant,
self-assured, closed-off, and handsome, but he isn’t the harbinger of
doom Levi assumed. Jeb’s mission: help Levi find his missing soul.

Levi
is pulled into the secret world of Seers and Keepers, those born with
the innate ability to manipulate souls and tasked with balancing the
negative energy they can produce. Levi learns he possesses a rare gift,
and he’s in danger. As Jeb and Levi grow closer, they discover a group
of zealots who want to harness Levi’s power to cleanse the world of
damaged souls. Everyone Levi cares for is threatened unless he agrees to
become their tool of death. But agreeing could spell the destruction of
humankind. With no one to trust and nothing as it appears, it’s up to
Levi to save them all.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

This is a really clever read, and I
enjoyed it. It provides an interesting viewpoint from someone who is in
the middle of a very complex situation and can’t see all of the moving
parts – all they can do is keep their head down and push through it. The
conceit of souls and Keepers and Seers is an intriguing one, and I
would read more of this series if there are any sequels.

So why
only 3.75 then? Two big things: the first and most glaring thing is that
the theory of manipulation of souls and the consequences thereof is WAY
to tangled and confusingly explained. I could never get a clear picture
of what the energy issue was between Levi and Jeb. I _think _I got a clearer picture at the end, but the avalanche of explanations tended to really muddle things by that point.

The other issue is that while I love Levi and Jeb together (HOTNESS!),
Jeb was a bit of a cipher for a huge portion of the story, which left
his motivations and “insta-love” for Levi puzzling. In the end I get
what the author is going for, but in the middle of the story is was just
awkward and confusing.

These quibbles aside, I did enjoy the book, and I will happily seek out other of Wallace’s books.

Also posted on Tumblr at: http://ift.tt/2b8Ws8Z

Book Review: Wolves of Black Pine, by S.J. Himes

An ancient civilization long hidden from humanity is on the brink of chaos and war.

Peaceful
for thousands of years, the wolfkin clans are mysteriously losing
packmates, kidnapped and killed by unknown foes. Among the dead is Luca,
youngest grandson of the two most powerful wolves in the Northern
Clans, but he is forced into a half-life, hidden in the far northern
wilds of Canada and cut off from his kind. Those who raised him have no
idea the creature they harbor in their midst, and name him Ghost. He
begins to lose himself over the long years, and though he barely recalls
his true name, the one wolf he never forgets is Kane.

Heir to
the wolfkin clan Black Pine, Kane is charged with hunting down the
traitors who them to the humans. Years fly by, and more wolves are
dying. He refuses to give up, and he vows to never again fail another of
their kind, as he failed young Luca years before. His heart tells him
Luca lives, but his mind tells him that it’s foolish hope, his guilt
eating him alive.

Fate and magic change the course of their
lives, and the two wolves long separated by the years find their paths
intertwining, though the reunion does not come without cost…

Rating: 4 out of 5

I really liked this book. I liked the setting, I liked the characters (even if there was a little much of The Ace trope going on), and the world-building was sound. All of the parts of a great book are there.

What’s not there is fitting all the pieces together as well as they could. The pacing is problematic, and it can make the book a bit of a slog at times. The best example that comes to mind is in a climactic action scene, we take a break for a page or two of exposition. There’s also a number of scenes repeated twice, from different character’s points of view. I think it comes down to narrative efficiency – tell the story as cleanly and efficiently as possible. I think with a little more editing this could go from a really good book to great book.

These quibbles aside, I enjoyed this book very much and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Oh, and fair warning for those reading for the hot man-on-man sexytime: it’s there, but only gets started 60% into the book. After that the times sexytime occurs starts to get a little ludicrous, but it doesn’t negatively impact the story.

Also posted on Tumblr at: http://ift.tt/2aRcOFy