Tag Archives: m/m werewolves

Short Story Review: Bisclavret, by K.L. Noone

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A very long time ago, in the very old forests of Brittany, a werewolf loved a king …

The Lord Bisclavret has a secret. A family enchantment. A wolf’s curse, transforming him when the moon is full. He hopes to be a good lord for his people, and he’s always been a loyal king’s man, even if the new king is inexperienced and scholarly. But one betrayal might leave him trapped in wolf-shape forever … unless his king can save him.

Andreas would rather be a University scholar than a king, and has no interest in a royal marriage — desire’s always come slowly, if at all. But he loves his kingdom, so he’ll try to protect it, even when rumors of a man-killing wolf spread across his land. He’ll pick up a sword and go out on a hunt, and hope to keep his people safe.

But the wolf has the eyes of a man, and the scholar-king’s knowledge of folklore and fairy-stories might break a werewolf’s curse … with the help of love.

Very loosely based on the twelfth-century story by Marie de France, Bisclavret features a bisexual werewolf lord, a demisexual king who’d rather be a scholar, some exasperated men-at-arms, and very important stolen clothing.

Bisclavret, by K. L. Noone

I generally don’t review short stories but this was so good I’ll make an exception!

What a lovely story. I love so many things about this – the characters, the framing of the story, the sweet side-comments. The love demonstrated between these two men is what I adore most though. Grand, sweeping romantic gestures are nice, but someone who patiently deals with their love’s forgetfulness or silly habits with fondness? That’s a beautiful thing. Also, I always appreciate a demisexual character, and I like how it is explained in context.

Book Review: Never Underestimate an Omega , by Eden Winters

An alpha leader must have an alpha mate, but Gray wants only one man.

And that man is an omega.

Wolf shifter Gray Collins returns to his home pack to avenge his father’s murder, never expecting to take on the role of leader. Gray is a loner with no desire to tackle the politics of being Pack Alpha. Worse yet, he falls for the man he’s come to depend on—omega Logan Richardson.

According to pack lore, omegas are inferior, nothing more than lowly servants. Or are they? Logan is far too cunning, fierce, and bold to be a low-ranking wolf. While he keeps his head down in public, when they’re alone, Logan stands toe-to-toe with Gray like no one else dares. Mutual respect grows into friendship, friendship into a white-hot desire neither can fight.

Despite the law and the odds, the two wolves form a tentative bond. Together they lead the pack through strife and threats, all while keeping a secret—a secret that could get them both killed, and plunge the pack back into the savage dark ages.

The entire Lycan world is on the brink of a hard-won lesson: Never underestimate the relentless force of an omega.

Never Underestimate an Omega , by Eden Winters

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This was a lot of fun! Winters deliberately subverts many of the tried-and-true tropes of shifter romances to wonderful effect. Gray is an alpha who really doesn’t want to lead, and Logan is a leader who quietly runs everything from behind the scenes. They suffer from romance-novel levels of communication constipation

There’s not a whole lot of world-building here, though it slowly fills in as the book goes on. You get your requisite alphas, betas, and omegas, as well as deltas and gammas (who are all apparently a bunch of stoners?), and the classification of who does what is an integral part of the story.

There’s a bit of a lull in the middle of the book as the plot loses some steam, but the final act redeems that quite well. Also, this is very much a slow burn, so if you’re looking for erotica this may not be your best choice. It is however an excellent story with fun characters!

Oh, and also I give bonus points for this delightfully meta passage:

Ah, but he’d love to be an alpha’s fated mate—one alpha’s in particular. In his fated mates romance novels, the alpha almost always chose an omega. This omega somehow wound up pregnant if the book happened to be mpreg. No, thank you. No, thank you very much. While he enjoyed mpreg stories, male pregnancy was something he’d rather read about than experience firsthand.

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

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!

Book Review: Under a Blue Moon (Camp H.O.W.L. #2), by Bru Baker

Nick Perry is tired of helping people with their marriages, so when a spot opens up to work with teens at Camp H.O.W.L., he jumps at it. He doesn’t expect to fall in lust with the dreamy new camp doctor, Drew Welch. But Drew is human, and Nick has seen secrets ruin too many relationships to think that a human/werewolf romance can go anywhere.

Happy-go-lucky Drew may not sprout claws, but he’s been part of the Were community all his life. He has no trouble fitting in at the camp—except for Nick’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the growing attraction between them and his ridiculous stance on dating humans. Fate intervenes when one of his private practice patients threatens Drew’s life. Will the close call help Nick to see a connection like theirs isn’t something to let go of?

Under a Blue Moon (Camp H.O.W.L. #2), by Bru Baker

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Normally when I review books in a series I’ll only review the first book, on the assumption that there are characters, settings, or references from the first book that make later books difficult to enjoy without having read the books in order. In this case, I’m starting with book 2 for two reasons: one, that with the exception of throwaway references to side characters, this can be read first, and two, the second book is really so much better than the first!

In this world, werewolves are in a parallel but hidden part of modern society. A small number of humans know of the existence of werewolves, usually those adopted into packs. The first transition from human to wolf normally occurs around puberty, and its effects on emotions and self-control are just as dire as puberty itself. Posh camps like Camp H.O.W.L. exist in remote areas to help teens from more affluent families ease through their first change.

This is a fun setting, and the focus here is on the Camp H.O.W.L. staff. The sparks between Nick and Drew fly from the very first pages of the book, but there is an interesting tension because Drew is ready for a serious relationship, but Nick feels that humans are werewolves are just too different and a relationship is destined for failure.

The characters are what really won me over in this book. Nick is a psychologist who is damn good at his job, but tends to see everything through the lens of his professional opinions. He’s never provided counseling to a human/werewolf couple, but has for many human couples and where huge differences exist the relationships fail. Drew is a complicated guy with a checkered sexual history. He’s also generous and patient, and willing to wait for Nick to work through his hangups.

I have a few minor complaints about the ending of the book but overall, I really enjoyed it. Great setting, great characters, and a couple of very sexy scenes too! This is a great read for some low-angst werewolf fun.

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: 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: 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!

Book Review: Rise from the Ashes, by Noah Harris

When everyone tells you that you’re meant for bigger things, at what point do you start believing them? When life calls on Adam Miller, he must decide if he can rise to the occasion.

Adam Miller doesn’t have an exciting life. But then, he’s never wanted one. He’s happy to play his small part in the world. He’s a cog in the machine, sure, but an important one that keeps the machine running. He’s happy to remain in the background, a mid-level employee with a cramped cubicle and an amiable friend to those in his pack. But his habit of not making waves also means that he must keep an integral part of himself hidden from those he calls family.

Despite being shrouded in secrecy, Adam’s love life takes a distinct turn for the better when he meets Joshua Wetmore. Like the rest of Adam’s life, his romance with Josh appears to be quietly progressing right on schedule. Their sweet courtship is born just as Adam’s pack asks him to step forward into the demanding leadership role of Alpha. Adam struggles to prioritize his developing relationship with Josh, while still keeping their connection private. The spotlight on him is bright, and his secret might be the spark that ignites the tinder of discontent within his pack.

As Adam’s doubts about whether he’s truly meant for the Alpha role haunt him, his pack’s safety is threatened by impending turf war. And his seemingly easy going new boyfriend brings his own set of dangerous complications. As the stakes get higher and higher, Adam must find the courage to rise to the occasion. With his pack, with Josh and with himself.

Rise from the Ashes, by Noah Harris

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

What can you do with a book where you just don’t connect with the characters? That’s the biggest problem I had with Rise from the Ashes.

Starting with Adam: we get a very clear picture of Adam’s life as a corporate drone. Shuffle papers, stay in the middle of things with his head down. I find his sudden transition to pack alpha a bit difficult to imagine since up until that point he had seemed a man of limited aspirations. Once established in the role he starts to chafe at the daily grind, but it just doesn’t seem an intuitive personality change to me.

Josh, on the other hand, is set up as the romantic foil and…well, not a whole lot else. The point that he is a gentle soul is made again and again. A couple of personality traits are made repeated to reinforce his nurturing role, but I just never get a feel for his history and who he is as a person. Instead he becomes a plot point and not much else.

The world-building here is minimal, though for the purposes of the story that is not much of a negative since the main focus is on the interactions of the pack. It is current America with an entire society of werewolves and faeries existing in parallel to ours, but in secret. Not much is made of this secrecy, though. The story itself is rather predictable. This isn’t bad if the story is well told. This is a competent rendering.

One last note: I find it quite strange that the title and book cover appear to have very little to do with the story itself. Perhaps this was a marketing decision, but I’m mystified at the choices.

 

Book Review: Home Is Where You Are (The Alphas’ Homestead #1), by Alex Jane

By the winter of 1870, Caleb Fletcher has carved out a sheltered existence for himself in a simple cabin, outside a small town in the backwaters of Nebraska, resigned to living out his days as a solitary wolf. But his quiet life is interrupted when another werewolf lands on his doorstep on the eve of a snowstorm, brutalized almost beyond repair, with nowhere else to turn.

When Caleb reluctantly welcomes Jacob into his cabin, and eventually his bed, it forces him to face up to the traumas he’s been running from; the shame that made him leave his pack behind, and the horrors of war he endured.

As the weeks pass, it seems that Jacob’s arrival might not be the coincidence it first appeared. Jacob has an agenda. One that involves Caleb. And if Caleb agrees to it – if he can let go of his past and his prejudices – it will change Caleb’s whole world. Maybe even for the better.

Without a mate – a family, a pack – a wolf has no home.

But what if home finds you?

Home Is Where You Are (The Alphas’ Homestead #1), by Alex Jane

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

I love warm, fuzzy feelings and that is what I got from this book. 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.

In this world, werewolves are known to exist in the human population, though they generally keep to their own kind. In cities, they are tolerated and can even ascend to the higher social classes. In war, they are fearsome fighters, weapons used by generals. In the rural country, though, they are viewed with fear and suspicion.

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.

I love that the author gives us some insight into Jacob and Caleb’s histories, and I get a real feel for each character. They are very different individuals and contrast one another nicely. Much of the dramatic tension comes from Caleb’s rejection of Jacob while his inner wolf makes it abundantly clear that this is not an acceptable possibility. Watching the relationship develop between the two is what gives me warm fuzzies, and I finished the book with a happy smile.

This is a unique spin on werewolves in the m/m romance genre and is well worth seeking out. The sequels, Returning Home (4.5/5) and Longing for Shelter (4.25/5), carry the story forward well, introduce new characters (but still include Caleb and Jacob!) and are a joy to read.

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

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

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

Quinn

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

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

Dima

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

Nazar

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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

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

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

I loved it!

Book Review: The Biker’s Omega, by Lisa Oliver

The Biker’s Omega (Alpha and Omega #1) by Lisa Oliver

Marly Miles has been happy in his life as a lone Omega wolf, living and working among the humans of Orlando, Florida. When an attack on him and his friend brings Marly to the notice of the Sergeant of Arms of the Epitaph’s Motorcycle Club, he realizes immediately that the man carries the same scent as his attackers. Not a very good start when the same man is also his mate.

Alpha wolf, Trent Beaumont has spent a lot of years living as a human when he walked away from his home pack. Forced to live as a straight man, because of the Epitaph’s club culture, he walks away from Marly after checking the man is safe. But no wolf, not even an Alpha, can refuse the mating call from the Fates. But with his club President looking over his shoulder, and a woman panting after him to share his bed, Trent isn’t sure it will ever be the right time to claim his own Omega.

Fights, misunderstandings and a lack of communication aren’t the only problems Trent and Marly face. Trent has a history that has clouded his judgment and when Marly gets attacked again, Trent realizes he could lose his mate permanently, if he doesn’t get his head out of the sand.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I’ll start off by saying I had no idea that the biker club was a Thing in the m/m romance genre until a few months ago, but I guess I’m not surprised. The romantic notion of the big, tough biker with the heart of gold is fertile ground for fiction, regardless of how close it may be to reality. I think I can safely say it’s not something that’s a big attraction for me, though. This book also falls into the easy Alpha/Beta/Omega trope, replete with fated mates and insta-love. This isn’t always a deal-killer for me (see the scorching-hot Protection of the Pack series) but it’s also not something that usually wows me.

You see then that for me this had a couple of strikes going in, and there just wasn’t enough to redeem it from there. It doesn’t help that we really don’t know that much about Trent until very late in the book except that he’s an uncommunicative asshole, and even his backstory doesn’t justify his actions and attitudes that much. The one thing that saved the book for me was Marly. At least the submissive Omega trope was set aside enough for him to be a snarky, sassy man with his own life and agenda, who isn’t willing to just do what he’s told without complaining. The fact that he can stand up for himself and kick the ass of anyone who tries to push him around makes him that much more fun.

Overall though this story has a huge problem for me, that of a non-American author (Oliver is from New Zealand) attempting to set a story in the US without knowing the culture well. We get the trappings of placenames and geographic references, but the dialogue, slang, and idioms are very definitely not American. This was very much a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard thing for me.

One last thing: That cover. I…it…you know what? The less said about the cover the better. I simply cannot summon the words to do it justice.

Although this series is now up to six books, I think I’ll stop here. There are better books out there to read.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 out of 5

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

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

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

Book Review: Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe by Rick R. Reed

 

Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe, by Rick R. Reed

A monster moves through the night, hidden by the darkness, taking men, one by one, from Seattle’s gay gathering areas.

Amid an atmosphere of crippling fear, Thad Matthews finds his first true love working in an Italian restaurant called the Blue Moon Café. Sam Lupino is everything Thad has ever hoped for in a man: virile, sexy as hell, kind, and… he can cook!

As their romance heats up, the questions pile up. Who is the killer preying on Seattle’s gay men? What secrets is Sam’s Sicilian family hiding? And more importantly, why do Sam’s unexplained disappearances always coincide with the full moon?

The strength of Thad and Sam’s love will face the ultimate test when horrific revelations come to light beneath the full moon. 

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

I really wanted to like this one, but there were just too many things working against it. The majority of the book is told from Thad’s point of view, so Sam is something of a cipher. At best he comes off as a caring but conflicted boyfriend, at worst he’s a stock Italian male stereotype. Also, because we spend so much time in Thad’s head we are privy to his back and forth thoughts on their relationship. And back and forth. And back and forth. Arrgh, make a damn decision!

Plot-wise, the mystery was not particularly mysterious. The motives were rather stereotypical, and the repercussions seemed very glossed-over. There were also a couple of annoying plot holes and threads left hanging. As for the werewolf aspects, with a few minor fixes you could change “is a werewolf” to “is a member of the Mafia” or something similar and not change the story that much.

I also found the ending rather frustrating as well, a shoehorned-in happily-ever-after that simply did not match the rest of the book. Sudden decisions are made and out-of-character opinions stated, and it really undermines the book as a whole. Reed’s writing style isn’t bad and I’d be willing to read other books by him, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Book Review: Wolfmanny, by Julie Talbot

 

Wolfmanny, by Julie Talbot

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

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

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

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review: Bayou des Enfants (Rougaroux Social Club #4), by Lynn Lorenz

It’s been nearly a year since Scott and Ted set up house together in St. Jerome. Life is good. Ted is trying to get his PI business off the ground with the occasional job and still painting for the gallery. Scott is alpha of the pack and sheriff of St. Jerome.

But Scott’s mother, Darlene Dupree, is not content. She wants grandkids and she wants them now. Taking matters into her own hands, Maman, as Scott and Ted call her, works her magic in the middle of the night next to the bayou.

Before Scott and Ted know it, they’re saddled with two boys. Which wouldn’t be so bad, if someone in the pack would take them in. But no one steps forward to claim them and Scott and Ted are left with a terrible choice, take in the kids themselves or give them up to CPS, where the boys can’t hide what they are – werewolves.

It’s the wrong time and the wrong kids. But the first rule of the pack is to protect the pack and there is no other choice to make.

Bayou des Enfants (Rougaroux Social Club #4), by Lynn Lorenz

Rating: 5 out of 5!

I’ll start off this review with a guilty admission: Whenever I see a review of a book other than #1 in a series I haven’t read I immediately skip past it. Hopefully others won’t do so with this because it’s really quite good. While you might understand a bit more about the characters and the setting if you start with Book 1 (Bayou Dreams, which I gave a 4 out of 5 review here), I think this book would also stand alone. This is the continuing story of small-town Louisiana sheriff Scott Dupree and his partner, former New Orleans cop/private investigator Ted Canedo. I fell in love with these characters in Bayou Dreams and it’s wonderful to spend more time with them.

To date I have generally taken a pass on books with couples raising kids. It’s not that I have anything against kids or the topic itself, it just didn’t seem like something that would interest me. Since I’ve enjoyed the Rougaroux Social Club series to date I figured I would give it a shot. I’m glad I did! This is a very sweet story.

Scott and Ted are in a quandary. Scott wants kids but isn’t always that great at dealing with them. Ted doesn’t feel he’s ready for kids but handles them quite well. They take in Timothy (age 6) and Charles (age 10) on a temporary basis after their mother and abusive father are killed in a car accident. The difficulties they have adjusting and slowly becoming a family are incredibly endearing.

Their efforts at becoming a family are threatened by a homophobic community, though. I wish I could say that this aspect of the story is overblown, but I grew up in the American South and I know that even to this day such attitudes exist. It’s hard to read sometimes, but I think it is important to acknowledge that this homophobia exists and can be damaging in unexpected ways.

There is a nice little subplot to this book as well, where Ted and Scott struggle with their relationship and issues of dominance, masculinity, and gender roles both in their daily routine and sexually. This leads to some extremely hot times in the bedroom that I definitely appreciated!

This was a sweet, enjoyable book that I’m glad I took the time to read. I do hope we don’t have to wait another two years for the next book in the series!

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Book Review: Secrets & Truths, by Kimberly Hunter

Secrets & Truths, by Kimberly Hunter


For untold centuries, the history of the Regem Lupus, the Wolf King, and his Regem Conjugem, the Royal Consort, have been hidden. Many times they have surfaced, putting the Pack back in order. Only to have it all fall apart again after their deaths.

Until now.

This is the personal account of Caleb Lamont and Jett Valen. Told in their own words, follow along with them and discover how an ordinary human and a powerful Alpha Prime learn of their birthright, their heritage, and most importantly, their destiny.

So in the immortal words of Caleb Lamont, “Buckle up, bitches! It’s going to be a wild ride!”

Rating: 2.25 out of 5

This book started out so well. I have always been a complete sucker for the whole ordinary-guy-destined-for-greatness storyline, so I loved the premise here. Caleb, a soldier in a shifter defense force, is nearly killed but saved by a bite from a werewolf compatriot, making him a werewolf as well, and a very powerful one at that.  Woohoo, right in my wheelhouse!

But then you have the standard werewolf insta-mate trope (“I have just met you and I love you!” Wait, does this mean Dug was a werewolf? Never mind.) I’m willing to put up with this if it is written well. The problem is that we don’t get a lot of glimpses into the personalities of the two main characters, Caleb and Jett, so the whole thing falls kind of flat for me.

There is really very little action here. There is a lot of discussion about the history of the Regem Lupus (I agree with the earlier comment that it should more properly be Rex Luporum, “King of wolves”) and the politics of the human and shifter worlds. OK, so we spend 75% of the book talking and talking and talking and then things go completely off the rails.

I really can’t get around the ethics of what is proposed in this story. It is definitely au courant in dealing with income inequality and poverty and need across the world. The solution that is proposed, though, is for all intents and purposes mass murder. This is NOT OK. What can I say? I like my good guys to at least try to be good. This is pretty much amoral trigger-happy BS.

Regarding the writing, the story is told from first-person POV, but it jumps between Caleb and Jett. I frequently couldn’t tell through which character’s eyes we were seeing and it made the story confusing as heck.Finally, a bit more proofreading would be helpful. There were also a good number of places where incorrect words were used, like “diffusing a situation”.

I’m afraid I really can’t recommend this one, unfortunately.

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Book Review: Werewolves of Brooklyn, by Brad Vance

Werewolves of Brooklyn, by Brad Vance

Darien Mackey wasn’t
looking for an adventure. For ten years, he’d been happy living in
Brooklyn, working as a butcher in the same job, living in the same
apartment, dating some “nothing-special” guys. Until one night his buddy
Jacob talked him into taking ayahuasca, the soul-changing drug. And
Darien had a vision…of a wolf, its all-too-human eyes on him, its paws
on his chest, its enquiring mind in his own…

Darien Mackey is
changing. He’s more confident, more assertive, hungrier, hornier. And
his world is changing around him – his job, his home, his beloved
Mechanic’s Library all falling victim to the predations of unscrupulous
developers, bent on demolishing the old Brooklyn he loves and replacing
it with a forest of condos. But he’s no longer a passive observer of his
own life, and as this thing, this power, grows inside of him, he
resolves to fight back, to preserve the way of life he loves.

And
he’s not alone in the fight. The Lipsius Preservation Society of
Brooklyn stands ready to assist in the battle, even though it seems like
a bit of a joke to Darien, with its King and its Duke, Marquess, Earl
and Viscount.

But there’s nothing funny about his growing
attraction to Albeus Finley, King of this mysterious Court. And when
slumlords and condo-mongers start to die mysterious, violent deaths at
the hands of savage animals, Darien begins to realize that something is
afoot in Brooklyn – something supernatural.

And it’s afoot in him, too…

Rating: 4 out of 5

There
are so many great parts to this book. A great setting, fascinating
world-building, interesting characters, and an interesting take on
morality. Unfortunately it doesn’t…quite…come together. The pacing
seems off, and the plot threads that lead off in different directions
are maddening. Even so, the writing is evocative and enjoyable.

Huge
props to Vance for the research he has done, both in the skill of
butchering and in the details of Civil War battles. Both have their
place, and are used to excellent results. Darien’s character arc is
great fun to read, and seeing him grow into his place in the world is
enjoyable. The side-characters are engaging as well (with some of those
being the meandering plot threads). There is enough material here for a
good four or five book series. I will definitely keep an eye out for
more!

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Book Review: Werewolf at the Zoo, by Charlie Richards

Werewolf at the Zoo, by Charlie Richards

Helping his brother escape the zoo, Rainy discovers more than just an array of animals.

Rainy
scouts the zoo, planning a mission to rescue his brother, who’d been
sold by poachers while in wolf form. He gets a whiff of the most
intoxicating scent, the man Travis Carlyle, his mate. But he quickly
finds out that before he can claim the handsome veterinarian, Rainy has
to convince Travis that he’s worth coming out of the closet for.

Travis
leads a quiet, discreet life, avoiding any situation that could
possibly out him to his family. After so many years alone, Travis finds
the love, affection, and acceptance Rainy offers him too hard to resist.
But just when he decides Rainy might be worth the persecution of
revealing his sexuality, he discovers Rainy has been keeping secrets, a
lot of secrets: Werewolves, Shifters, Mates? When he watches a shift
with his own eyes, Travis is forced to accept the truth.

Too bad
not everyone wants Travis to know the wolves’ secrets, tossing him into a
feud between shifters. When Travis’s father tries to come between them,
can Rainy convince Travis to choose a dangerous, love-filled life with
him instead of the comfortable, quiet existence he’s led with his
family?

Rating: 2 out of 5

This wasn’t a story as much as it was a checklist of werewolf m/m romance tropes. We’ve got your insta-love, fated mates, “I know you by smell”, silly alpha pack dynamics, biting during sex, and so on and so on. Add in some paper-thin homophobia, ridiculously quick acceptance of the impossible, subplots that go nowhere, and stunningly unlikely coincidences. The whole thing was topped off at the end with a lovely scene of, “It’s a shame that I just had to rip that guy’s throat out with my teeth. Hey, the steaks I was cooking look like they’re done. Who’s hungry?” Oh, and don’t get me started on the overdone Irish dialect. Ugh.

Let’s do the math:
+1 star because it wasn’t so awful that I couldn’t make it to the end
+1 star since it had werewolves. Because werewolves.
+0.5 stars for having sentences with subjects, verbs, and direct objects, and a minimum of typos.
-0.5 star for either ignoring the need for lube or using soap as lube. Ow. Just ow.

2 stars it is! Oh, and add one eyeroll for pretty much setting up the next book and telegraphing the plot for it in a single paragraph. I will not be pursuing the rest of this series.

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Book Review: Blood Howl (Sanguis Noctis #1), by Robin Saxon & Alex Kidwell

 

Blood Howl (Sanguis Noctis #1), by Robin Saxon & Alex Kidwell

Gun for hire Jed Walker
doesn’t figure it for a difficult job—a simple smash and grab
retrieval—except his new client doesn’t want money or goods. He wants
shy, gorgeous Redford Reed, a man who turns Jed’s world upside down
inside a day. He is in no way prepared to fall hard and fast for his
newest assignment.

Redford Reed lives his life locked in his
grandmother’s house, haunted by a terrible curse and watching the world
pass him by until Jed shows up, sent by a man who will stop at nothing
to claim Redford as his own. Teaming up with Jed is Redford’s only
chance at survival, but as the violence escalates, so does the tension
between them. Even though they each finally have something to live for,
now it’s going to take all Jed’s skill and every bit of courage Redford
has just to stay alive.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5

You
know those movies where you know going in that you’ll really enjoy it
as long as you check your brain at the door? I’m thinking action movies,
superhero movies, that sort of thing. Big dumb fun. Sure, there’s
massive plot holes, but damn the movies can be fun! This is what we have here, in book form.Normally
I’d knock this book on a number of counts: no world-building, little
backstory on the main characters, ridiculous motivations by the
antagonists, and more. But you know what? The story was so much fun and I
enjoyed the characters so much, I will give it a pass.Jed is
pretty much a boisterous, amoral, grade-A asshole. Need someone
assassinated, somebody kidnapped, something blown up? He’s your guy.
This kind of broad character can be entertaining as long as you don’t
examine them too closely. Redford is a perfect foil for Jed. He’s
sheltered, naive, and quiet, an element of sweetness that is the perfect
antidote to Jed’s crassness. The two of them together are an adorable
couple. Also, some of the werewolf scenes are flat-out hilarious.As
noted above, don’t think about the plot too closely. Just go along for
the ride and have a good time! Saxon and Kidwell’s writing is enjoyable.
The dialogue is snappy and the side characters are for the most part
interesting. The big finale is definitely big, and has some intriguing
plot twists that make future books in the series quite interesting
indeed. I’m definitely going to continue to read the series!
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Book Review: Bayou Dreams (Rougaroux Social Club #1), by Lynn Lorenz

Bayou Dreams (Rougaroux Social Club #1), by Lynn Lorenz


Sheriff Scott Dupree’s
got more problems than he can handle. He’s alpha of his small werewolf
pack and coming up for re-election as sheriff in a year. On top of this,
his mother is casting love spells to find Scott a mate. It’s all Scott
can do to keep the town and pack under control, let alone his urges to
mate.

Ted Canedo is openly gay, a disgraced ex-cop from New
Orleans. His patrol partner was killed on duty and Ted took the blame
for taking protection money from the store owner to save his partner’s
wife and kids grief. No one knew Ted was in love with his partner, not
even his partner. Having him die in Ted’s arms killed something inside
Ted too.

When the moon is full and Scott’s momma works her magic,
Ted’s erotic dreams and his work as a PI bring him to St. Jerome and
sexy, straight Scott. Scott’s stunned to learn his wolf is gay and wants
to mate with Ted. Ted refuses to become involved with a straight man,
much less a werewolf, terrified to risk his heart again.

Especially if it he has to watch Scott fight to the death for his right to claim Ted as his mate. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ll start off here with a bit of a rant. Keeping in mind that the target audience for M/M romances is straight women, the views presented in the genre can sometimes be…distorted. One of the common tropes is “gay for you” (or GFY in the fan parlance). This trope is, “I have been straight all of my life but now that I have met this particular man I am madly in love.” This gets under my skin because it completely ignores the existence of bisexuality and the fact that sexual orientation is a continuum, not a discrete, binary gay/straight thing. Typically not even a nod is given to the possibility of bisexuality which is annoying at best and outright offensive at worst.

There. Having gotten that off my chest I can get on with this review, which ostensibly does fall under the GFY trope, but it skirts around it neatly. The idea presented here is that a werewolf has a human side and a wolf side. The human may be whatever orientation, but the wolf wants what the wolf wants (male or female), and it’s going to get it. This sets up an interesting tension between the characters that was, to be honest, pretty damn hot.

Having gone to school in New Orleans, I’m a sucker for stories set in Louisiana. Werewolf stories in Louisiana? I’m all about that! The characters of Ted and Scott are interesting and their angst at the undeniable draw between them makes for a good story. The rural countryside and swamps provide atmosphere for a fun, fast-paced story.

Unfortunately, in places things didn’t flow quite as smoothly as they could have. The introduction of some characters that are clearly present for future books in the series is a little clunky. Also, I generally give wide leeway for how sex scenes are written. Everyone has something that turns their crank, even if it doesn’t do much for me. Even so, the sex scenes didn’t always quite read as well as I would have liked. This may be just a personal thing, though.

I liked this book a lot and have already bought the next one in the series!

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Book Review: Worth the Wait (Worth #3), by Lyra Evans

A proposal turned political…
Detective Oliver Worth doesn’t always think things through. When he proposed to Connor Pierce in front of all the packs of Logan’s Court, he thought he was being romantic. It was a grand gesture to show Connor he meant it—that they were Fated, that Oliver wanted to spend the rest of his life with Connor. He didn’t think he was proposing a bond that would unify the Courts of Logan and Nimueh, forever solidifying peace between the two kingdoms. If he had, maybe he would have expected the fallout.

Marked a murderer…
When Oliver and Connor’s bonding ceremony is interrupted by news of a murder—with Connor the prime suspect—Oliver and Connor are forced to disappear into hiding in Maeve’s Court. With a dwindling list of allies, they must race to solve the murder and clear Connor’s name. But with every passing moment, the political landscape of the Three Courts shifts toward destabilization and war, with Connor and Oliver at the centre of it all. As the evidence mounts against Connor, and the Courts prepare for all-out war, the case gets more convoluted. Is Connor being framed for murder? Is the murder only one part of a much larger plan? And with Connor presumed guilty across the Three Courts, how far does the conspiracy stretch?

A grasp for power…
The road ahead is more treacherous than Oliver ever imagined. As he pushes to find answers and save his lover, Oliver must hold desperately to the belief that he and Connor really are meant to be. Can they work fast enough to find the real killer and save their Courts from all-out war? Or will their Fated love be Fated to die?

Worth the Wait (Worth #3), by Lyra Evans

Rating: 5 out of 5

This is a great way to cap an extremely enjoyable series! Having established the characters and the setting well in previous book, Evans is free to dive deeply into the characters and the world of the Three Courts. The political machinations take center stage here, as does a pretty clever mystery.

We (finally!) learn both Oliver and Connor’s family histories, and that plays a big part in the story. The heat and passion between these two is there as always, though the on-page hotness is toned down from previous books. The fast-paced story more than makes up for this though as our heroes traverse one end of the Three Courts to the other seeking to clear their names.

As always, the side characters shine here, from the stalwart Donna, Connor’s second in command, to the wild and fearless reporter Rory. The small side-plot involving border guard Brook was sweet and sad, and not something I had noticed in previous books.

I enjoyed this book so much. I’m sad to leave Oliver and Connor but the ending of their story is so perfect I have no complaints whatsoever!

(Side note: That cover…ugh. I mean, at least they’re consistently bad throughout the series, so I guess there’s that.)

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Book Review: Worth the Trouble (Worth #2), by Lyra Evans

Detective Oliver Worth is still new to the whole ‘relationship’ thing. He spends every moment of his free time in Logan’s Court with Connor, then slips over the border to Nimueh’s Court to get back before dawn. It’s exhausting, but it works. After all, Oliver’s still closeted, and the Nimueh’s Court Police Department is hardly the most welcoming of places.

Connor Pierce, on the other hand, feels differently. When he asks Oliver to begin a public courting tradition, Oliver panics and runs back to Nimueh’s Court to think things through. The problem is someone has already made the decision for him. Now he’s the butt of every officer’s joke, and his Captain must disclose his relationship to the Commissioner. Oliver’s sure his life can’t get any more messed up.

But when a call comes in asking Oliver to consult on a murder back in Logan’s Court, Oliver is forced to accept the reality that things have only started to fall apart. With Connor mourning and desperate to find the killer, Oliver barely has a chance to deal with his true feelings about going public. Worse, the case has virtually no evidence and no leads. Having no options and the threat of more deaths around the corner, Oliver gives in and calls for a Special Investigator to help. Only the Investigator they send is the last person Oliver wants.

Now Oliver isn’t just dealing with a dangerous murderer, he’s facing a past he’d long-since buried and the slow crumble of his first real relationship in years. Can Oliver weather the storm of his fears and unresolved feelings to move forward and give Connor what he needs? Or will the past destroy every possibility of Oliver and Connor’s future?

Rating: 5 out of 5

Having dispensed with the majority of the character introductions in the first book of the series (Worth a Shot), this book has time to tell a great story with a tricky mystery as well. Oliver’s mixed emotions toward relationships make sense in the context of his past, which we learn more about here. It’s painful to see his world blow up in his face, though I could wish more time would be spent on the repercussions of this.

Instead, it’s back over to Logan’s Court, submerged in a werewolf culture that Oliver knows little about and struggles to learn on the fly. The tension of the mystery ramps up throughout the book, and in the meantime Connor and Oliver try to sort out where they stand. A big hazard in a story like this is that one part of the story or the other can take over the book. Here, the mystery and relationship development are given a proper amount of weight, as is the interaction between them. As with the first book, I could wish to know more about Connor’s past – maybe this will be addressed in the third and final book, Worth the Wait.

I really enjoy Evans’ minor characters here. The inscrutable Donna, the irritating-yet-alluring Sky, and even the border guards are fun and interesting. This helps create a more complex world that draws the reader in. And as before, the intimate times between Oliver and Connor are incredibly sexy. The settings are a bit offbeat, but that definitely kept this reader’s interest.

(And again…ugh, that cover. It still has no relation to how I picture the characters, but whatever…)

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Book Review: Worth a Shot (Worth #1), by Lyra Evans

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Worth a Shot (Worth #1) by Lyra Evans

Detective Oliver Worth has everything he needs-the job he always wanted and a knack for picking one-night stands. When a high-born Witch is found murdered on the steps of Nimueh’s Court, Oliver is given the case of the century-because no one else will touch it. Not when it looks like the murder was committed by a Werewolf.

The Treaty between the Courts of Nimueh and Logan has stood for over a hundred years, and peace was hard-won. If a Werewolf is responsible, the murder counts as an act of war and would plunge both kingdoms into chaos. Something Oliver’s Captain is keen to point out.

Treading lightly, Oliver has no choice but to venture alone into Logan’s Court to investigate. The trail of clues leads right to Connor Pierce, a newly minted Alpha of Logan’s kin. Connor is gorgeous and captivating and absolutely a suspect. Determined to do his job and catch the killer, Oliver finds he’s now got more to worry about than an inter-kingdom war. He tries to ignore his growing desire, but Connor keeps drawing him in. Everything about Connor is intoxicating, and Oliver isn’t sure how long he can fight off temptation…

Now there’s not just the peace of two kingdoms on the line-there’s also his heart.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Now, I appreciate hot, steamy scenes in my reading as much as the next gay guy, but I prefer for a book to be plot- or character-driven, and the intimate stuff is a nice garnish. This book though…wow. The overall plot is OK, and the characters are interesting. But the level of heat throughout most of this book is incredible, and not even particularly explicit.

Oliver is quite a complex character – open about his sexuality in the off hours, but deeply closeted in a professional setting. Although we don’t get a whole lot of backstory on any of the characters in this book (maybe in the sequels?) we learn enough about Oliver to understand what makes him tick. Connor is more of a cipher, but that is by design. We learn about the werewolf society (Logan’s Court) bit by bit as Oliver does. One thing that is very clear – sex and sensuality are very much integral to the wolves and their interactions.

The world-building is nicely done here as well. This is a society where magic exists and is a fact of life. Dirty clothes are taken care of by laundry wards, and cocktails are served with anti-intoxication potions mixed in. At the same time, there are cars, computers, and cell phones. The setting is built organically – not a whole lot of exposition going on. This doesn’t always work for me, but it definitely fit in here. Also, although this is ostensibly a shifter story, very little of this plays into the plot except to define the different societies (and associated prejudices).

A large portion of the book is taken up by Oliver needing to pose as Connor’s consort to interview a key witness. As a plot device it’s a little flimsy, but the attraction, temptation, and intimate pas-de-deux between Connor and Oliver is hotter than hell and kept my attention throughout! The mystery is resolved nicely and while the ending is a bit unexpected (in a good way) it sets the stage for future stories, although this book is self-contained.

I liked this one a lot. Recommended!

(Side note: Ugh, that cover. I know I’m not the target demographic but that’s over the top. The way these guys are described, neither of them works out or does anything that would be necessary to maintain ridiculous chiseled abs like that. Ah well…)

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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

 

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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: Wolfsong by T. J. Klune

 

Wolfsong, by T. J. Klune

Ox was twelve when his daddy taught him a very valuable lesson. He said that Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then he left.

Ox was sixteen when he met the boy on the road, the boy who talked and talked and talked. Ox found out later the boy hadn’t spoken in almost two years before that day, and that the boy belonged to a family who had moved into the house at the end of the lane.

Ox was seventeen when he found out the boy’s secret, and it painted the world around him in colors of red and orange and violet, of Alpha and Beta and Omega.

Ox was twenty-three when murder came to town and tore a hole in his head and heart. The boy chased after the monster with revenge in his bloodred eyes, leaving Ox behind to pick up the pieces.

It’s been three years since that fateful day—and the boy is back. Except now he’s a man, and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.

Wolfsong is a truly remarkable book. Although I found it through the m/m romance genre, it is so much more than that – if anything, I would place it more in the modern fantasy category. It’s an epic story with werewolves, but also the story of an enduring relationship and friendship.

Klune skillfully employs some great world-building here, not only basing some of the ideas on traditional werewolf lore, but also introducing new concepts that explore what it means to be human or wolf, family or pack, and what it means to be Alpha. The ideas are solid and well-thought-out. I am left wanting to know so much more about this world and the Bennett family.

With this setting as a backdrop, the author explores themes of family, belonging, and loss, but most importantly the concept of choice – when you have a choice, when you do not, and what the ramifications of those choices can be. Sometimes we find that we make the wrong choices in life, but once they are made, you have to live with that. These themes are interwoven into the narrative with frequent callbacks to earlier conversations and events that make the book a tightly-woven tapestry.

I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out why this book struck so viscerally, why the climactic scenes had me caught up in the excitement, why the heartfelt moments moved me to tears (multiple times!). The author has a talent for characterization, for one. The main characters are believable and three-dimensional. They can be intelligent and wise, but they can do stupid stuff, too. We start off seeing Ox as a shy, slow boy who feels his father’s scorn, but we learn that he is so much more, and capable of so much more. Watching this evolution engages the reader and you find yourself cheering them on, though also being disappointed when poor choices are made as well.

From a literary construction standpoint, Klune’s writing is fascinating to read. Ox’s story starts with short, simple statements, but as we learn more about who he is and as Ox matures into a man, the writing gets more complex. Repetition of certain phrases throughout the book ties the story together and invite the reader to compare the characters now versus where they were earlier in the story. Best of all is the dialogue, spoken and unspoken. The banter is funny and smart, and the characters speak like you, your family, and friends might. It’s believable and makes the reader a part of the story. The unspoken dialogue (an oxymoron, I suppose) is  excellent as well, showing communication through the wolves and the pack, often more emotions than words.

This is hands-down the best book that I have read this year, and in fact in many years. I rate it 5 out of 5. If you like stories of werewolves, of modern fantasy, or of an enduring romance, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

(Note: this book does contain a few scenes with descriptions of sexual contact between adult males. If this freaks you out…what the hell are you doing reading this, anyway?)

Book Review: Axton & Leander series, by S. P. Wayne


Axton is a man of secrets. He lives the life of a hermit deep in the forest, and is quite content with his lot. As a werewolf, this gives him the space to roam, game to hunt, and no prying eyes from which he must hide. His world is upset by the arrival of Leander, a big-city lawyer who buys a cabin nearby. Axton find him attractive and is drawn to him, but not only is Leander not gay, he is very definitely human and therefore cannot know of the existence of werewolves, who exist on the fringes of human society.

Thus begins a saga that starts small and expands to a grand scale as Axton and Leander find love but must fight to find their place between the human and werewolf worlds.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is what occurred to me as I tried to consolidate my reviews of the individual books of this series into a single review. The Axton & Leander series by S. P. Wayne is comprised of three books: Winter Wolf, City Wolf, and Everything Carries Me To You. The series is self-published, and according to all evidence that I can find these are Wayne’s first books. It shows, but this is not a deal-killer. There are some copyediting errors, though they diminish as the series proceeds and it is all good enough to forgive the minor errors.

What you get to see here is the development of an author into an outstanding talent. This means each book gets progressively better – better characterization, better secondary cast, better plotting. As Ms. Wayne’s world-building increases in scope, there is a delightful push back against the usual tropes of werewolf fiction, and against taking “the easy way out” in plotting. Every time I stopped reading and tried to predict where the story was going and how it would end, I was wrong. I really loved this, and it made the book so much more rewarding for me!

Both Axton and Leander are relatable, complex characters who develop and show us more of their personalities as we go. Sure, Axton starts off a reclusive hermit and Leander appears to be an obnoxious douchebro, but by the middle of the second book you’re cheering for them both and learning more and more about their motivations. I found the banter in the books particularly charming, not just between the two main characters but with and between the secondary characters that join the story in City Wolf. Throughout the books the dialogue stays consistent with what we know about the characters and how they would speak. Wayne also excels in setting a scene; one of the stars of Winter Wolf is the mountain wilderness itself, snowy and unforgiving.

The bedroom door is wide-open in these books, which is to say that if explicit descriptions of two guys getting hot and steamy are not your thing then you may not find these books to your liking. That said, if you like a good werewolf book (and not just a romance book – there’s so much more happening here than just romance!) or a good urban fantasy, I can strongly recommend this series.

Ratings:
Winter Wolf – 3.5 out of 5
City Wolf – 4.5 out of 5
Everything Carries Me Back to You – 5 out of 5
Axton and Leander series – 5 out of 5, carried by the strong finish of the last book
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