Of Nuts and Men by L.E. Franks (review)

Tagline: Cinderella squirrel shifter abused by his stepbrothers has interesting encounter with a treed man

Of Nuts and Men Book Cover Image
TitleOf Nuts and Men
Author: LE Franks
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Shifter Romance
Format:  Short Story (14k words, 41 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-495-6

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star1 star1half-star   It was o.k., overall.

Note: While parts of this story were excellent, there were parts I very much did not like, depending a bit on how a sentence was interpreted. ) Most of my criticism centers on personal preferences and reactions, rather than the quality of the writing.  Other reviewers found found this story to be much more charming.

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

Synopsis: Squirrel shifter Jamie heads to the mountains for a break, but unfortunately at least one of his demanding and overbearing tiger shifter stepbrothers takes it upon himself to be even more obnoxious than normal. As Jamie follows his squirrel’s instincts and looks for last year’s buried nuts, he discovers a human one of his stepbrothers tormented and chased rather far up a tree. It’s up to a squirrel to try and save the human from his stepbrother’s cruelty.

Review (with spoilers):  On the positive side, the shifter’s behavior in search of his cached treasures was brought to life with a delightfully squirrel-brained style. The author did also provide an interesting description of the shift between forms, which I found to be a nice departure from many typical shifter stories. Indeed, the trip seen through the main character’s eyes while in his shifted squirrel form was very cute and commendable. The danger surrounding the protagonists did build some nice tension and cause a decent level of concern. The maneuvering to get the human safe from being treed was inventive and interesting, and some of the treatments for hypothermia were authentic and right on the mark.

My issues with this story are mostly personal rather than related to the writing or the author’s creativity.  The first time I read this work I very much disliked it, but upon reading it a second time, I suspended my disbelief of a key development and some of my distaste abated.

This story hit two of my “really can’t stand/ruins it for me” buttons:

  1. Alpha assholes who take advantage of (and abuse) smaller/weaker protagonists without any kind of decent resolution for the bullied and abused central character;
  2. Over-reliance on anal intercourse as the ultimate/only way to establish a deep sexual connection between men . (I don’t like this in general, but I normally accept because it seems absolutely required in m/m romance.  However, when it seems so incredibly out of place to me for the situation, it can just ruin any kind of heat or passion for me.  Upon my second reading of the story and reinterpreting one sentence, the hook-up at the end was a bit more believable, although it still read much more like male/female intimacy to me.)

In part, the author seemed to be going for a Cinderalla theme, with a small squirrel shifter basically a servant for semi-abusive and definitely obnoxious tiger shifter stepbrothers. Unfortunately, unless the reader takes one line rather seriously (even though I believe it strongly contradicts the preceding plot direction), the payoff at the end came across to me as more unrealistic than a fairy tale.  Also, the story did provide not much of a respite from the shitty situation of the protagonists’s life.  Therefore, for me it tried to have a HFN ending that stretches credulity (so was not very satisfying to me) and also has the return to the obnoxious alphaholes lurking immediately in the background.

The final physical connection seemed very out of place for my sensibilities.  After the extreme drain of being trapped ridiculously high up a tree, potentially deadly hypothermia, and fatigue due to too much shifting, the two falling into bed for first medical necessity and then comfort made a great deal of sense.  However, the story immediately continued on to more demanding, seemingly out of place intimate activity.

Maneuvering for anal sex (in my experience, one of the more difficult manners for two men to be intimate) in the middle of the woods after both characters being so incredibly physically drained just seemed extremely unrealistic.  Yeah, I know this is a fantasy, with people turning into animals, etc., but the acrobatics required for full male-on-male penetrative intercourse, in a state of exhaustion after nearly freezing to death and in the middle of a small tent, just made no sense to me.  The unbelievability of the story worsened  when the bottom orgasms simply from being penetrated, an extremely rare event in of itself, let alone if both male partners were physically recovering from almost near-death experiences.

Upon my second reading, I tried to take more seriously one line about shifters recovering quickly thanks to magic.  (Even though the story had been playing up the real dangers of hypothermia, and used it as a realistic plot device for the two to get naked together in bed, that one line can be read to imply that the near-freezing-to-death experience was very suddenly magically cured for one of the characters.) With the more generous interpretation, the sex scene read a bit more realistically (well, except for the bottom’s orgasm) and could come across as nicely heated.

Recommended for fans of: Cute squirrels; those who need an immediate full on male-on-male anal intercourse payoff no matter what the situation; those who think alpha stepbrothers trapping (and almost killing) a human to (purposefully?) round up a bed partner for their squirrel stepbrother servant is cute.

Comments: 

O.k. – my ultimate snark: If I wanted to read a male/female version of this story, I would have read an erotic version of the original Cinderella.
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