No Mate of Mine by Lisa Oliver (review)

Tagline: Abandoned Omega and fated mate is rescued from the BDSM torture that made him a vampire’s favorite snack, meaning pack/coven relations may never be the same

No Mate of Mine Book Cover

Title: No Mate of Mine
Author: Lisa Oliver

Genre:  Male/Male Paranormal Romance
Format:  Novel (53k words)
Series: Bound and Bonded #5

Book sites: Author |  Goodreads

Publisher: Oliver Group (July 2015)
ISBN: 9781310423994

Retail: $3.99

Rating:   star  star  star  half-star  (I liked it alot! )

Synopsis: Roger, an enforcer at the Washington wolf shifter pack’s Bound and Bonded BDSM club, met his fated mate Cam when the lad was just twelve years old.  Wanting to give him some time to grow into an adult, Roger left him to grow up in the safety of his home pack.  Years later, when nightmares prompt Roger to look for Cam, the Alpha wolf discovers his Omega mate is missing and the clues lead to a vampire BDSM club in New York.  As the Washington pack stands by its own, and the fated mate link is sacred, rescuing an Omega is who a vampire’s favorite treat means the paranormal fur begins to fly.

Review:  This book covers one of my favorite themes (Omega wolves) and it’s by an author I generally really like, but I did not find it to be quite as strong as some other stories from the same setting. I find these works, centered on a couple gay wolf shifter packs, often walk the line between really fun, fast-paced, and sexy on the one hand, and corny and/or short shrifted plots and characters on the other.  Sometimes the balance swings one way (where I really enjoy the escapist sizzle) or the other (when I’m disappointed by simplistic conflict/character/relationship resolutions).

I much prefer the author’s other BDSM-themed M/M wolf shifter series (the Cloverleah Pack) which seems to be set in the same universe. While I was excited to read about an Omega in this Bound and Bonded series, I found the results to be a little uneven, or at least not quite as compelling as I have found some of the author’s other sexy/BDSM/wolf shifter escapist reads.

Overall, fans of this author, and especially the Bound and Bonded series, should enjoy this book, especially if they like an occasional Omega character in amongst the general focus on very strong and in-control, hot Alpha/Dominant wolves. While some of the plot and setting twists were nicely fresh for an “Omega-in-distress” story, the focus of the work was his true/fated-mate dominant who had semi-abandoned the weaker wolf years before. Watching Roger work through his reactions was interesting, touching on plenty of issues, although not in an extremely deep manner (and therefore not as compelling as it could have been). To be fair, the strength of this author usually isn’t the great detail of slowly evolving and challenging character and relationship angst, but rather presenting a decent premise of a “fated mate” relationship conflict, following with several twists and turns, with each obstacle usually tackled somewhat quickly.

In other words, this author presents decent character, relationship, and setting issues but generally resolves them relatively efficiently and sometimes a bit perfunctorily, but always includes a decent amount of nicely explicit sizzle. Her stories are best for those looking for some escapist, heated reads that combine simple but still intriguing, character, setting, and plot and plenty of male/male sizzle, but nothing overly compelling.

This work fits that mold fairly well, making it a 2.5 to 3.0 star read in terms of quality and and 3.5 to 4 star read in terms of just escapist enjoyment and reading pleasure. So overall, I’m giving it a 3.25 star rating (because I often enjoy these types of works, including this one) rounded up to 3.5 because “Omega wolves,” coupled with a sprinkling of vampire themes in a wolf shifter story, are among my favorite themes.

Recommended for fans of:   Escapist, rescue the tortured Omega reads (without dwelling too much on the logic of the torture or the mate abandonment).

Explicit Heat: fire fire fire fire
Passion: heart heart heart  – The fated mate  chemistry was present, a bit more familiar and friendly, if not overly compelling
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:

My biggest criticism would center on the Omega’s recovery from horrendous abuse. The author is careful to have the newly mated Alpha/Dominant to be caring, considerate, and backing way off typical Master/servant (or Dominant/submissive) etiquette as the Omega is not in need of harsh domination – quite the opposite. Still, there are hints that D/s activities outside of those that mimic the worst abuse previously meted out on the Omega would be pursued. (In other words, things like extreme pain, harsh verbal and physical Domination and humiliation, blood play, etc., would be avoided, but other D/s activities were likely to on the couples’ future menu.) Again, the author was careful to give plenty of power to the abused submissive to help shape their future play, but the discussion of it while he was basically in immediate recovery from horrendous abuse set my teeth on edge a bit.

Again, like others in the series, this is a relatively quick and escapist jaunt into wolf shifter culture where BDSM is keenly integrated their culture. Therefore, I’m not expecting – nor am I really strongly criticizing – the lack of depth and nuance with which some character and BDSM issues are handled. Overall, the author does a nice job at touching on important safety and relationship concepts in BDSM that are brief but fit nicely into short, escapist sexy works involving the topic. However, even though the author took great pains to have Roger be an extremely caring and understanding dominant wolf who rescued his abused Omega mate, my honest reaction to some of the BDSM discussion at the end was both “too soon!” and also whether the Omega would be at all interested in that type of play at all given what he had been through.

Just my honest $0.02. This should not detract from how, overall, the author handles BDSM tactfully, especially for a setting where extreme-tough and resilient supernatural wolf-shifting men enjoy rough physical play with each other.


Orion’s Circle by Victoria Sue (review)

Tagline: Tortured Omega rescued by a triad of powerful wolves and a fated bond is tested

Book Cover

TitleOrion’s Circle
AuthorVictoria Sue

Genre:  Paranormal Shifter M/M Romance
Format:  Novel (53k words)
Series: Sirius Wolves #1

Sites: Author |  Goodreads

Publisher: Dark Hollows Press (June 2015)
ISBN: 9781942176855

Bonus:  mpreg

Retail: $4.99

Rating:   star  star  star  half-star  (I liked it!)

Synopsis: A tortured Omega is rescued by a Triad of uber-powerful Alphas who claim to be potential mates.  However, when the new bonds are tested by a deceitful plea for help, betrayal, and quick doubt among the potential mates, fear and anger overwhelm trust and developing love.

Review: The genre of an “abused/tortured” Omega being rescued by hunky Alphas is one of my favorites, and this book has some nicely satisfying elements of this type of “Prince Charming” (or, in this case, Charming Princes) tale. The characters were nicely diversified, the emotions (good and bad) had some resonance, and despite a type of “fated mate” trope there were definitely some twists, turns, and potentially insurmountable obstacles in the story and the relationship.

The relationships between the Alphas and the Omega were the most engaging parts of the book, generating some decent interest as well as a twist or two that I wasn’t quite expecting, but also occasionally left a bit to be desired. There were certainly some sweet and reassuring “rescue and comfort the Omega” scenes, but also some interesting conflicts, including some over-the-top reactions that made some sense and helped make this to be a bit more than a simplistic “rescued and then fated  to mate”story.

Still, I enjoyed it enough to want to read more in this series, and especially liked the differentiation of characteristics and roles among the Alpha Triad and their new Omega friend.

The story did not deliver quite as much as I would have preferred, as some of the “world/setting” reveal was rather bland, and the overarching background plot (a Triad+Omega sent by an exiled/almost powerless goddess) was too huge to be easily acceptable. This mega-story certainly is intriguing, but it came across as a bit too blasé for me. (I guess I expect a long, detailed and provocative exploration for such an epic storyline.) Still, this level of drama separates this work from others that are a bit more “mundane” in their treatment of Werewolf-human interaction.


Recommended for fans of: Alpha/Omega menage; mpreg; world-saving-ending paranormal/wolf shifter power in plotlines.

Explicit Heat: fire fire fire fire – Some explicit scenes  with some kink (mpreg menage)
Passion: heart heart heart heart  – The chemistry and passion was present, if a bit over the top.  If one suspends a little disbelief and accepts just how quickly trust/love/mate was pronounced, retracted, and restored, the passion works.
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments – Boring political/world building critiques:
The human political plotline was another that had some great ideas but wasn’t pulled off as smoothly as liked, including brief treatment of two human factions (part of the same team) that seemed to be at odds with any kind of organized effort by a human government to take an issue like this seriously. (People showing up at official, extremely sensitive, top-secret, and should-be-very-carefully-managed negotiations unannounced. A strike force that seemed to be spotted from miles away slowly surrounding and capturing an entire large group that should have easily been able to slip away, but they seemed to just stand there and wait to be surrounded and captured.)
The “werewolves exposing themselves to humans” trope is a difficult one for me to appreciate without an extreme level of thought and sophistication. (The author’s treatment of this “coming out” wasn’t horrible, and had plenty of political and personality-driven machinations, but for those plots to be very enjoyable to me, I yearn for a very significant and deeply well thought-out world building and story. The reasons why werewolves remain hidden for so long, how they’ve interacted with and affected human events in the past, and why they are coming out now are massive questions that are difficult to answer in a short romance. For example, author attempted to address some of this with comments about World War I and the War on Terror, so kudos for at least trying to put such a earth-shattering, seminal event into some perspective. But to me this ices over World War II and the Cold War, which to me vastly, vastly larger threats by far to both humanity and especially werewolves’/supernaturals’ position and stake in the world.) Again, my respect to the author to at least try to address this, even if in this particular case it did not really enhance the believability (or suspension of my disbelief) too much for me personally.

Broken Alpha by D.C. Juris (review)

Tagline: Alien Alpha captain locates his captured, intimately linked Alpha brother who was tortured into becoming an Omega

Broken Alpha book cover

Title: Broken Alpha
AuthorD.C. Juris

Genre:  Male/Male Alpha/Omega Alien Romance
Format:  Novella (39k words)
Series: The Alpha/Omega Verse #1

Publisher: Torquere (Jan. 2016)
ISBN: 9781944449230

Retail: $3.99

Rating:   star  star  star   half-star  (I liked it a lot!)

3.5 stars (rounded up for a different take on an Alpha/omega relationship)

Tagline 2: Alpha captain of a starship discovers his beloved but missing brother to be held in enemy captivity where the torture has damaged him at a fundamental level

Synopsis: Captain Korden Encarit of the North Star thought he’d lost the most important person in the universe to him – his brother and lover, Rennett. A year later, Rennett has been found alive, a captive on a hostile planet. Only when their sibling link reactivates does Korden realize how bad the damage is: stripped of his mental strength, Rennett is now a Broken Alpha. With the help of his friends, Korden must try and heal his brother’s mind and help him adjust to his new status as omega. But Rennett needs a mate, and it quickly becomes clear that no one is willing. Will Korden give up everything he has worked for – his career, his ship – buck Presidian tradition, and risk the scorn of their father to save his brother?

Review:  This novella includes a fresh, unique, and provocative take on traditional Alpha/Omega roles, centering on an Alien race where one Alpha brother is “broken” and becomes an Omega due to a long period of torture. I found the setting and the initial exploration of the characters to be somewhat fascinating, perhaps a bit more emotional than I usually expect among Alpha males, but definitely intriguing and enjoyable. The rescue and caring for the “Broken Alpha” (who was tortured from Alpha to Omega) was also interesting but not quite as compelling.

The method of how the characters healed and resolved these strains was not as gripping as I would have liked – it seemed a bit too expository more than riveting, although the basic actions and ideas in the resolution were certainly somewhat novel  and compelling.

Technically, the two protagonists were brothers, so people interested in “brocest” will see a theme that touches on that type of pairing. In reality, if that idea squeaks one out too much, the “genetic brothers” theme is really not central (and the story would not read very differently if they were simply two Alpha best friends who formerly had only formed a deep emotional and sexual but not permanently mated bond.)

The recovery included an brief introduction to the need to be controlled, hurt and dominated, and quickly acknowledges a laundry-list of BDSM-type activities and needs (without very little graphic depiction).  Those looking repeated anddetailed BDSM scenes will be disappointed, and those squicked out by BDSM themes might not appreciate the ending.  To me, the “Broken Alpha’s” need to submit to control and pain made sense, and the realization and acknowledgement of this need in the pair was interesting if a bit brief.   The story touches on slipping into the submissive cravings and the exploration of how “submissive space” filled essential needs.  While not quite as thorough or detailed as I would have preferred, I do commend the author for tackling this approach to BDSM (as I know many “real-life” submissives who use a trip into BDSM “sub-space” as an extremely cathartic release from past, abusive powerlessness).

Recommended for fans of: Alpha/Omega themes in an alien setting; Caretaker Alphas; rescue and recovery from abuse via BDSM.

Explicit Heat: fire fire fire fireExplicit scenes with some kink (but most of the kink is implied rather than detailed, and the brother theme seems rather muted)
Passion: heart heart heart heart – Definite passion between the brothers
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:
The second in the series is definitely kinkier, although not in quite the way I expected.

Gay Marriage in Romance Novels

Scribbled below are my thoughts regarding a recent article from a literary critic bemoaning the lack of gay marriage and long-term gay relationships in fiction.  He either is not familiar with male/male romance or dismisses the genre, hence my response.  I do not claim to have a great deal of expertise on the topic, but I can provide one fan’s perspective.  I also list some of my favorite works that focus on married gay couples (and link to an article commenter who listed ten more serious male/male romance works).

In response to: “It’s time fiction reflected gay married life” by Matthew Griffin

My Response | Commenter’s Ten Works | My Favorite Gay Marriage Fiction

My Comments

It is easy for literary critics to overlook or dismiss “pulp” fiction when looking for thoughtful and meaningful insights into society and social relations.  The author of a recent article lamented the lack of fiction that reflected gay married life.  He indicated some popular fiction (e.g. science fiction) and popular cinema (Brokeback Mountain) had been meaningful to him.  However, he also stated that much of the gay literature he had read usually focused on past difficulties (such as homophobia and AIDs) and almost always had tragic endings.  When he read gay literature that was focused on more positive relationships, he found it generally to be rooted in sex, beauty, physical pleasure, and repeated encounters with different partners rather than long-term relationships.

As a reader of the male/male romance, I do recognize there are many works in this genre that may focus on physical pleasure, superficial appearance, and/or immediate conquest/hook-up/coupling of two men.  However, serious readers of this genre will recognize there are many works focused on personal and romantic gay relationships and the societal issues surrounding their long-term struggles and success. Many works have focused on a journey to marriage, both in the newly legal sense as well as in the long-term relationships that has been part of gay culture in the United States for decades.  (Before any U.S. state legalized gay marriages, most of my gay friends in long-term, committed relationships used the terms “married” and “husbands” to refer to themselves even if broader society called them “partners.”)  The male/male romance genre has always included serious explorations of permanent love and relationships, and gleefully has also incorporated legal marriage into newer plot lines.

It’s possible this author is unfamiliar with this somewhat “niche” genre, or may dismiss it as “pulp” fiction that is not worthy of serious consideration, as some others have done in the past.  Whatever the author’s experience or opinions,  I do not want to rehash old arguments but I will take this opportunity to say popular fiction has often made insightful comments on current society and aspirations for a better world.  Pulp science fiction in print and on film of past decades has predicted both technological and social developments in society, from Isaac Asimov to Gene Roddenberry.

The often maligned romance genre has been too often dismissed by some feminists and scholars as stereotypical fairy tales or simply reinforcing traditional patriarchy, reinforcing a stereotype that a woman needs to be with a man to be complete.  Yet there are plenty of examples in this broad genre of powerful women breaking  gender norms, and often knocking down men devoted to patriarchal/male domination in relationships, and uplifting those who are willing to join with strong women in challenging at least some repressive gender roles.  (One doesn’t have to be a misandrist or totally opposed to long-term monogamy or marriage to support the equality and empowerment of women.  I have always embraced the feminist label for myself, and also enjoyed many male/female romance books with strong women as well as male/male novels.) In a similar manner, while some “male/male” romance works seem to be focused on titillation, plenty have social and personal substance in their stories and relationships.

In short, I am arguing that the male/male romance genre has seriously tackled gay long-term relationships, both before and after the legalization of gay marriage, and that romance as a genre should not be summarily dismissed even if some works are simply focused on immediate pleasure rather than more serious issues.  (While this is probably not news to any who are likely to read this, it did make me feel better to vent a bit.)

A quote from the article:

The gay literature I read in the years after that never quite answered my questions. Much of it is rooted not in the drama of long-term relationships but in the sharp pang of sex, in the search for love in immediate beauty and physical pleasure, often moving from one object of desire to another in quick succession.

Below are two lists of male/male romance series that have a rich depth and breadth that reaches far beyond the sex/beauty/physical focus which the author describes above.

Ten strong male/male romances focused on long-term relationships:

Provided by a commenter responding to the article on The Guardian‘s website

1. More Heat Than The Sun series by John Wiltshire
2. Cut and Run series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban
3. Stockhlom Syndrome series by Richard Rider
4. Special Forces Series By Alexandr Voinov
5. The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon
6. The Shatterproof Bond series by Isobel Starling
7. The Psycop Series by Jordan Castillo Price
8. Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander
9. Captive Prince series by C.S Pacat
10. The THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

Some of my favorite “gay marriages” in recent fiction:

Love Lessons series by Heidi Cullinan
Promises series by Amy Lane
Bear, Otter and the Kid series by TJ Klune
Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael
Hope by Rick Reed (7&7 Anthology of Virtue and Vice)
Love Lessons series by Heidi Cullinan

Comments:  The series covers college-aged and new adults from a wide variety of backgrounds and approaches, from jaded players, Disney-princess twinks, gay men fleeing religious discrimination, rich and financially struggling, suburban and rural. (Series is set in a Midwestern college environments that reflect my own experience.)

Promises series by Amy Lane

Comments:  Thes tear-jerker novels follow a strong young man who suffers, survives, and thrives in a difficult, homophobic environment, including taking in a friend ejected from his family for being gay, and a couple growing through their taboo attraction, war, and the development of an increasingly broad and inclusive family. (Set in the Sierra Foothills very close to my current location.)

Bear, Otter and the Kid series by TJ Klune

Comments:  Extremely humorous and rather irreverent series filled with laughter surrounding serious issues.   I must admit, this actually isn’t one of my personal favorites, as one of the characters drives me too crazy, but overall is a fan favorite for a “laugh-out-loud” take on serious issues.

I actually personally prefer the At First Site series, which is even less reverential and more caricature-driven humor. Even so, I see plenty of realistic attitudes and experiences in the characters even if they are driven over-the-top in humorous but endearing caricatures.

Unto Us the Time Has Come by Sean Michael

Comments: Gay marriage can lead to gay divorce, and this holiday story centers on a gay couple and their kids coming to terms with celebrating Christmas while separated. Interestingly, many of the (female) reviewers found the men’s behavior to be extremely knuckled-headed, and wondered why it took them so long to get their heads out of their a**es. I found their behavior utterly believable. I’m just not sure if it’s a male versus female point of view, or maybe I just have my head too far up my own…

Hope by Rick Reed

Comments:  This short story (available in the free 7&7 Virtue & Vice anthology) centers on a man dealing with the fallout of HIV in the 1990’s but able to survive and move on to love and eventually marriage.  In some ways, a relatively pat and simplistic story, but one that resonated deeply with me.

He’s Just Knot That Into You by Nico Jaye (review)

Tagline: Desperate Alpha misses the potential mate right under the horned rimmed glasses in front of him

Book Cover

Cover: Anna Sikorska
Title: He’s Just Knot That Into You 
Author: Nico Jaye

Genre:  Paranormal m/m shifter romance
Format:  Novella (42k words)

Sites:  PublisherGoodreads

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)
ISBN: 978-1-63216-823-8

Retail: $4.99

Rating:   star  star  star  half-star  (I liked it alot!)

Synopsis:  When Tanner moves to Chicago for a new job, he experiences his First Shift, a revelation that signifies he’s met his mate since the last full moon. The only problem? He doesn’t know who it is. To find his mate, he enlists his new assistant Jon to arrange a series of dates, but each one turns out more disastrous than the last.

With the next full moon quickly approaching, Tanner finally determines the identity of his true mate. Unfortunately, Jon has since disappeared, and Tanner must now begin a new search. Is it really Jon’s family crisis pulling him away, or is Jon just not that into him?

Review:  I loved the premise – a potential Alpha in desperate need of finding his fated mate overlooks a rather endearing Omega who is serving him right in front of his eyes.

A nicely sweet story of an Alpha looking for his mate, it’s a fun piece of mating fluff with a little sizzle and even some shifter toughness mixed in with the yearning and potential love.Overall, it’s simply a nice treat for a quick, escapist read with plenty of sweet and a touch of sizzle.

3.5 stars (rounded up for the knotting)

Recommended for fans of: Quick and sweet romances; Alpha males who appreciate quite and/or young nerdy mates; knotting.

Explicit Heat: fire fire fire  – Some explicit scenes  (and tiny bit of knotting kink).
Passion: heart heart heart   – Some chemistry present, especially with
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:
A bit of a wolf shifter Alpha / Omega vibe (including a Female Alpha/Male Omega pair of background characters).

Tangling with the Bears by Lisa Oliver (review)

Tagline: Horny wolf has a doubly unbearable time after a bathroom hook-up

Tangling with Bears Book Cover

Title: Tangling with the Bears
Author: Lisa Oliver

Genre:  Parannormal M/M Shifter Romance
Format:  Novel  (89k words)
Series: Cloverleah Pack #8

Sites: Author |  Goodreads

Publisher: Self-Published (March 2016)
ISBN: 9781311551863

Retail: $4.99

Rating:   star  star  star  star   (I really liked it!)

Synopsis:  Tobias, a wolf shifter enforcer with the Cloverleah Pack, is looking for a quick, no strings-attached, hookup, but finds himself scarred by a toothy chomp on his neck from a restroom. After biting the anonymous wolf during the bathroom quickie, Luke a sometimes awkward bear shifter, immediately leaves to call his mate Kurt.  Both bear shifters are rather surprised that their third mate is not the human female they expected but a male wolf shifter.

Kurt must protect his mate while trying to track down their new mate, dealing with a pack Alpha prejudiced against bear-shifters while convincing himself, as well as the wayward wolf, to trust the fates that brought the triad together.  The bears will discover their immunity to magic might come in handy when dealing with the powerful Cloverleah Pack, which has plenty of shifter power and magical might running within the group as well as in their deadly enemies.

Review: Fans of the Cloverleah series will likely enjoy this latest installment, although I found parts of it to be not quite as compelling as some of the previous titles. Strengths of this paranormal m/m erotic romance series include extremely powerful alpha males, an increasingly complicated supernatural and political plotline, and, of course, plenty of heated male/male encounters.

The relationship at the center of Tangling with Bears focuses on a menage (m/m/m), and the exploration of the somewhat problematic start of this “instant mate” triad is a bit weaker than other parts of the book or series. On the positive side, the author is attempting to examine what can go wrong in a trope establishing an immediate and permanent intimate connection among the mates, giving the reader some “serious” relationship issues wrapped into the broader paranormal/pack plotline.

Luke and Kurt were interesting characters, sometimes just a little stereotypical but overall they served as nice foils for one another. The fears and hopes of Kurt and Tobias contrasted with Luke’s steady trust, and thereby creating the core relationship drama of the book. This trip through the “instant mate” trope, in this case for three mates, was nicely fresh if not always overly compelling to me.

As typical for this series, the author also explored problematic shifter and paranormal dynamics, deepening the pack’s story with, of course, plenty of explicit intimate encounters. Fans of the series will see the overarching plotline continue to develop with a new set of interesting (and nicely different) mates.  It can be read as a standalone, although surrounding characters and the deeper pack/political plotline will be most appreciated by those who have read the entire series.

Recommended for fans of: Cloveleah pack series; Bear shifters; MMM Menage; a lumbering Bear shifter who is sweet and stumbling and fearsome all at the same time.

Explicit Heat: fire fire fire fire – A fair amount of explicit heat, an important focus of the book, but interspersed into plenty of story.
Passion: heart heart heart – The three-way chemistry was not quite as strong as I would have liked, but the book’s plot centered on the strain between two of the mates which slowly rose and fell, although not always as convincingly as I would have liked.
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:
As always, this does a great job of portraying fully reciprocal male intimacy.

The Private Secretary by Summer Devon (review)

Tagline: Struggling middle-class man must work for the upper-crust Victorian gentleman who bullied his lover out of the country

Private Secretary Book Cover

Title: The Private Secretary
Author: Summer Devon

Genre:  Historical M/M Romance
Format:  Novel (141 pages)

Sites: AuthorGoodreads

Publisher: Self-Published (June 2016)

Bonus: Kindle Unlimited

Retail: $2.99

Rating:   star  star  star  half-star  (I liked it alot.)

Synopsis:  After his middle-class father inherits wealth and squanders it away, Ezra Seton is left to care for his younger brother.  Unable to compete with his lover’s memory of a previous beau who swept Francis off his feat as well as bullied him mercilessly, Ezra is devastated when his love leaves him behind.  Desperate to support his brother, the young man seeks employment in the very house of this memorable bully, the wealthy Victorian gentleman Robert Deeme.  Accepting a position as secretary to Deeme’s off-kilter cousin means Ezra will be spending a great deal of time with the man he despises.  His position exposes him to continued interactions with the man who bullied his love, an erratic and eccentric cousin, the pitfalls of lunatic asylums in Victorian England, and, of course, a growing physical attraction to the pretentious gentlemen.  When Francis returns and eyes the “rude” gentleman just as relatives released from the asylum arrive, the secretary’s world is laced with passion, jealousy, and potential lunacy.

Review: This is a sweet (if a tad brief and sometimes simplistic) historical male/male romance set in Victorian London. Robert, the wealthy man of society, and Ezra, the struggling but educated man of middle class origins trying to take care of his siblings, were a nice combination.  There was a fair amount of disdain to accompany plenty of attraction and character growth as well as a little between the sheets sizzle.

I found some elements of the work to be strong and interesting, including a (sometimes abbreviated but) believable enemies-to-lovers plot and “cross-class” themes. There was also a particularly interesting glimpses at 19th century/Victorian Britain (including sanatoriums, upper class researcher scientists, a touch of upstairs / downstairs flavor, and a bit of “Society” mores).

As with other works by this author, the setting is a nice draw for fans of male lovers set in 19th century British society. The characters are sympathetic without being perfectly wonderful or awful, including the protagonists, the surrounding family/household, and the foils. The weakness is in the sometimes quick-moving and/or overly pat plot and relationship developments, conflicts, and/or resolutions. In other words, it’s great for a diverting, relatively quick, and entertaining read (rather than a deep or really angst/passion-filled or breathtaking/enveloping romance).

Recommended for fans of:  Historical romance; Victorian England; sweet stories.

Explicit Heat: fire fire fire – Some sizzle with explicit content.
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:
Overall, I find Summon Devon stories to be entertaining and diverting, providing a pleasant trip into Victorian England with generally pleasant and sweet portrayals of male/male relations in a sometimes very repressive society.

Wolfsong by T.J. Klune (review)

Tagline:   “Worthless” teen thrust into a world of wolves, danger, and responsibility

Book Cover

Cover: Reese Dante
Title: Wolfsong
Author: T.J. Klune

Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novel (160k words)

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)
ISBN: 978-1-63477-165-8

Retail: $6.99

Rating:   star  star  star  star  half-star  (I really liked/loved it!)

Synopsis: Before he left his mother and his family forever, Ox’s father told the awkward and not always articulate young man that his son was worthless.  When young Joe moves in next door, Ox becomes fast friends with the neighboring family and begins to learn many of their wolf shifter secrets.  While Joe and Ox grow to be young adults and become closer and closer, Ox is deeply embedded in the family when violent shifters strike a blow against the whole pack.  As a future Alpha, Joe must shoulder the burden of leadership which might tear him away from the friend who is a potential love and mate.  Years of struggle with paranormal shifter and magical threats split the pair apart at a rather deep level, and the possibility of being reunited brings forth feelings of long-boiling anger that might overwhelm their abiding friendship and potential love.

Review: T.J. Klune is one of my favorite authors, and he delivers a stunning paranormal, wolf-shifter “romance” that draws characters,  supernatural elements, and relationship angst vividly on the page.  While Klune normally writes extraordinarily humorous and snarky contemporary gay romance, he brings similar but more serious rattling, prattling, rapid-fire character thoughts and attitudes to this rather angst-filled and dramatic coming-of-age romance.  The paranormal elements were compelling and the setting interesting. Even though many of the themes could apply to less magical environments, there is quite a novel development that brings a fresh and sometimes dramatic theme concerning a human protagonist not found in other paranormal stories.

Ox’s struggle with his sometimes dim view of himself is challenged dramatically by the events, forcing him to choose just what kind of person, partner, friend, lover, and family member he wants to be.  The tapestry surrounding the protagonist’s struggle is deep and rich for fans of paranormal and extended family settings, intriguingly framing personal growth and coming of age themes with supernatural and relationship struggles.

My small critiques would include the fact that the couples’ relationship was a so angst-filled it was hard to buy the connection between them at times, and the protagonist’s anger a bit over-the-top from my perspective, but these elements also made for a rather atypical and fresh approach to potential shifter mates.

Recommended for fans of:  Somewhat angst-driven (in a serious, adult responsibility manner) coming of age stories; slightly darker paranormal potential couplings;  TJ Klune’s fast-paced and direct character thinking/speaking processes in a more serious/less humorous manner.

Explicit Heat: fire fire  – A bit of explicit content, but the real heat was in the angst, anger and potential passion much more than the physical scenes.
Passion: heart heart heart heart – In some ways it’s hard to get more passionate (almost five hearts), although most of the passion focused as much on feelings of betrayal and anger as deep friendship and intimate connection (more like 3 hearts).  So, overall, the highest level of emotion but also a strong undercurrent of mistrust and very separate, often diverging character attraction and development.
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:
I really enjoyed this as a fresh take on paranormal romance applied with TJ Klune’s unique style (even without the humor).  While I didn’t find the protagonist’s anger quite as compelling as other readers, the overall experience was riveting and a great (if just a tad dark) male/male paranormal romance.

To Arizona by Meg Harding (review)

Tagline: Hockey player/otter shifter shipped to the desert deals with a tough captain…
Altnernate: Alphahole turns a tough but smaller hockey player into a buttercup…

To Arizona Book Cover Image

Title: To Arizona 
Author: Meg Harding
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novella (15k words, 46 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology


My true reaction:   1 star  – I hated it.
My Objective-ish rating:   3.5+  stars (for intriguing shifter ideas and writing)
Summary:  Hockey is my least favorite professional sport, and at times some of the worst aspects of the (in my opinion) over-the-top aggression displayed by hockey players (and not really related to the athletic skill required to play) is front and center here. Readers who love the “rough and tumble” of hockey players’ behavior on the ice are much more likely to find the love interest in this story to be compelling and interesting than I did.
Why I’m reviewing it:
I might have skipped even reading this, but I enjoyed another m/m romance between hockey players so much (Him by Sara Bowen), I thought it was worth a quick read.
One of my favorite author’s once said she’s not happy about a newly released book until she receives her first scathing, 1 or 2 star review.  (She has a good fan base, so I’m guessing her  “excitement” at receiving a bad review means she wrote something compelling and strong enough for somebody out there to be offended or repulsed.)  I’m offering my two cents about this book in that spirit. Since I had such an extremely negative reaction, and since there are plenty of other glowing reviews (so my one honest but negative critique shouldn’t adversely impact a talented author’s sales), I’m mostly posting this in an attempt to complete my reviews of the entire anthology, hence my honestly felt (but perhaps over the top) rant is below.
The writing quality and innovative setting probably rate at least three or more stars (some of the shifter scenes were incredibly cute) but in all I honesty I wish I hadn’t read this.

Dreamspinner’s 2016 Daily Dose anthology includes 30 romantic male/male shifter stories released to me one per day during the month of June.

Synopsis: Otter shifter Dustin gets traded to the professional Arizona hockey team, where the weasel shifter captain Chandler takes him in, shows him the ropes, and tries to make him toe the new line.  Of course, this means the two fight like hell. 

Review:  Chandler struck me as the worst type of example of the obnoxious, domineering Alphaholes from male/female romance (or instead, perhaps more charitably, just acting like a typically rough and tumble hockey player enforcer and captain).  The writing was fine and sometimes very interesting and innovative, especially in the area of cute shifter behavior.  However, at the center of the story were two characters with a potential romantic interest. basically with a larger hockey player going all “emotionally-stunted caveman” on a smaller hockey player’s a**.  This means acting like a possessive, uncommunicative douche, picking fights with him and bashing other players as ways to “court” the new guy.  I know a romance story is not working for me when I’m routing for the two protagonists to not get together.  When Dustin (who I liked) realized the Chandler (who I thought of as “the Alphahole”) was “courting” him and decided to give in (because he liked Chandler’s aggressive dickishness, I guess), I ending up disliking both characters so much I felt they kind of deserved reach other.

On the positive side, the shifter scenes were innovative and absolutely adorable.  Given the adolescent, thuggish, Neanderthal, emotionally stunted behavior of the main love interest, unfortunately there is no way in hell I can find the entire story “cute.”

Recommended for: Hockey fans;  Romance readers who appreciate emotionally stunted domineering men (alpha-wannabe alphaholes) who let their “caring” out in other ways.

Heat: fire  fire  –  A couple of explicit scenes (hard for me to rate, since I disliked the main love interest so much).
Passion:  No hearts for the humans involved. (Dustin seemed to like muscle-bound dick well enough, but it’s too bad the guy attached to it came across as a  super-douche.)
heart heart – Some passion and chemistry expressed in shifter form.  (Of course, the way Chandler expressed “passion” and “chemistry” and “lust” did not work *at all* for me.)
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments (uber-snark with spoilers):
Dustin concludes that Chandler is—in his own backward way—courting him. He suspects if he doesn’t figure out what signal Chandler is looking for specifically, this will continue on for a while and leave both of them nothing but frustrated.”
 My reaction to that line:  How about get the fuck away from me you obnoxious, emotionally stunted, domineering, preening fucktard douchebag?

Quiet as a Mouse by Asta Idonea (review)

Tagline: Shy church mouse shifter trapped by his feelings for the choirmaster

Quiet as a Mouse Book Cover Image

Title: Quiet as a Mouse
Author: Asta Idonea
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Short Story (8k words, 25 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-515-1

Retail:  $1.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star star star   (I really liked it!)

Dreamspinner’s 2016 Daily Dose anthology includes 30 romantic male/male shifter stories released one a day during the month of June.

Synopsis: Shy shifter Paul becomes the proverbial church mouse to spend more time with choirmaster Cale.  While it wasn’t enough for the agnostic young man to join the church choir, spying on the musician and his soaring artistry caused a shift in his perspective, laying out a trap for his heart.

Review: This short story included themes I really enjoy, including music (especially soaring church music) as well as an agnostic struggling to enjoy the beauty of religious art (and his feelings for the church choirmaster).  Of course, I always love a sweet but shy protagonist, and there was just the right touch of hesitation about how accepting the otherwise friendly village will be about his crush on the talented and attractive man.  The brief exploration of the beauty of music with a darling “crushing on him” story made for a light and wonderfully escapist reading experience.  Tweaking the basic “boy secretly wants boy” plot with some fun shifter flavor simply added to the sweetness for me.

Recommended for fans of: short and sweet love stories; shy guys secretly crushing on a guy who might be straight; the artistry of religious, choir, and/or organ music.

Explicit Heat: fire  – Nothing explicit or on page, but sweet crushing and yearning instead (with one beautiful kiss).
Passion: heart  heart  heart   – Some nice initial chemistry between two young men yearning for each other (in a tentative manner due to fear of homophobia).
Genre:  Romance

Other Comments (with spoilers):
The attraction between the two was clear, and even their appreciation, respect, and “like” for each other.  However, the  “love” word was over-the-top, making this more of a sweet, escapist fairy tale more than realistic contemporary romance (which, of course, fits fine with a “mouse shifter” theme).