Putting Down Roots by Tam MacNeil (review)

Tagline: Bookstore clerk gets a teaching job in an isolated manor rooted in a haunted village

Putting Down Roots Book Cover Image

Title: Putting Down Roots
Author: Tam MacNeil
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Short Story (9k words, 29 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-512-0

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 to me one per day during the month of June.


Synopsis: Working at a dead-end job in a bookstore,  Mark is lonely, unhappy, 29, and waiting for a chance to use his teaching certification. However, when a professional opportunity finally turns up, it is with an unhappy, isolated student in a village that is rumored to be haunted. His experiences at the rural manor, and with the student’s  strangely attractive father, begin to make him think there might be something about those  rumors.

Review:   It’s almost difficult for me to call this a romance, as it was the slow exploration and realization of the nature of the “haunted” village and manor that was the focus of the story.  I thought the author did a great job of quickly teasing out a different and interesting paranormal setting.  I am generally not a fan of “haunting” mysteries and stories, but the balance of the supernatural, personal, and intriguing characters worked very nicely for me.  The sprouting of attraction and a potential relationship was fine, but the real pull of the writing to me focused on the nice hints and superficial but very intriguing revelations of the nature of the fae blessing/curse covering the setting.

Recommended for fans of: lightly haunted villages and houses; May-December (or maybe July-October) gay pairings; alternate, fae-flavored shifter meme.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat: fire – The promise was there for two lonely men.
Passion: heart  heart   – There really wasn’t much chemistry between the characters to be found in the exposition, but the overall story seemed to portray genuine attraction to me.
Genre:  Romance


Other Comments (with spoilers):
I found the image describing the area to be nicely enticing, a biscuit box bringing back fond memories: The village was the type most often seen on biscuit boxes and old postcards.
I absolutely loved the idea of a fae-influence turning people into trees.  The anthology series presents a nice range of shifter themes, and the idea of a tree-shifter was particularly cool.
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A Cobra’s Charm by Meghan Maslow (review)

Tagline: Sshy sssnake enslaved ssshifter dances for his master before meeting his animal’s arch-nemesis

Cobra's Charm Book Cover Image

Cover: Bree Archer
Title: A Cobra’s Charm
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novella (17k words, 52 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Sites:  Publisher | Goodreads
Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-513-7

Retail:  $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating: star  star  star  star  half-star  (4.5 stars – I really liked/loved it!)

Rounded up for belly dancing, harem pants, and that delicious cover!

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

Synopsis:  Jiri the Cobra Shifter spent life as a trophy of a collector, part of a harem of a deviant master deep in the Sahara.  When a honey badger shifter is added to the collection, the cobra saw its arch nemesis, a dangerous and deadly foe.  But Jiri the shifter saw more, and the man behind the badger might not always be a frenzied fighter.

Review: For a short work, the author does an excellent job of establishing an intriguing and exotic setting, enough shifter lore to whet the appetite of paranormal fans, interesting characters, the feeling of some real chemistry and heat between the heroes, challenges to overcome, and some climactic scenes.  I found this story to be enticing, plenty romantic, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Of course, one of my favorite themes are repressed and brutalized men rescued by the strong hero, and even more when the characters make it not quite as simple as that.  For a quick read, the author packs a great range of intriguing ideas, characters, and scenes into a brief package.

Recommended for fans of:  Harem boys belly dancing; a Middle Eastern themed harem of shifters; natural enemies to friends; an extraordinarily rough and tough fighter mesmerized by a slim and slick survivor; a “weak” “boy” in distress “rescued” by a tough but true and stout hero (a little bit of a gay version of a maiden in distress).

Sizzle:
Heat: fire fire fire – A couple of hot and heavy scenes, with the feel of a first-time (and definitely a first-time together)
Passion: heart heart heart – For a short story, there was plenty attraction and eventually strong potential for true and deep feelings.
Genre:  Adult Romance


Other Comments:
Belly dancing, loved the hood

More Beautiful Than a Unicorn by Bell Ellis (review)

Tagline: Fairy tale of a shy virgin with both a unicorn and an exotic hero who keep fading away

More Beautiful than a Unicorn Book Cover Image

Title: More Beautiful Than a Unicorn 
Author: Bell Ellis
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Short Story (12k words, 38 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-514-4

Retail: $1.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star  star  star  half-star   (I liked it alot! – but I’m a sucker for fairy tales)

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

Synopsis: At 25 years of age, Tobias is a bit frustrated at being a virgin and being alone, but when he begins catching sight of a unicorn, he’s not sure what to do.  After being rescued by some ruffians by the exotic Amar, Tobias realizes he wants more love and connection than he’s had, but more than anything he just needs to spend time with someone he really loves.


Review: A fairy tale through and through, the author brings a little character to fabled characters, including a sweet but earnest modern male virgin and a stout, experienced, and true Unicorn stallion.  Tobias comes across as a truthful and truly  shy young man slowly thrust into a fantastical story.  The connection between the protagonists moved a bit more swiftly (at least in terms of exposition, although it developed over a longer bit of “story” time) than in a full romance novel, but decently on pace for a short story-length fairy tale.  The ending had an interesting twist, cementing the focus of the story, which I say would be the importance of a pure love.


Recommended for fans of: Fairy tales; unicorns; sweet virgin men; the power of love (almost at first sight); sweet and simple sappiness (in a good but simple way) over sizzle.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat: fire  fire – not explicit, mostly fade to black, but some heated hints and tantalizing tastes
Passion: heart  heart  – A tremendous amount of love and passion implied, but in a fairy tale kind of way (rather than sizzling, although fans of denial might find it even more compelling)
Genre:  Adult Romance

A Cat Builds a Raft by Bee Allen (review)

Tagline: Shifter living the life of ease as a housecat finds his otherwise workaday caretaker has otterly dangerous pretensions

Cat on a Raft Book Cover Image

Cover Art: Bree Archer
Title: A Cat Builds a Raft 
Author: Bee Allen
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novella (18k words, 52 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Sites:  Publisher | Goodreads
Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-511-3

Retail: $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star  star  star  (I liked it. – Cat lovers might like it even more.)

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


Synopsis:  Unwilling to deal with family expectations and complexities,  Zeke takes refuge with a relatively luxurious life as a housecat. Toby, his human companion, pampers him as a cat demands, and it’s too good to expose himself as a shifter.  When an intruder up-ends the comfortable life of human and cat, family issues haunt both of the companions, requiring a review of their priorities, wants, and needs.


Review: While not the most romantic story in the world (to me), this quick read explores several themes with some intriguing interaction and interplay.  The owner/pet dynamic is on display with just a nice display of cat-like attitude from the shifted man.  For a short story, the author weaves a setting and conflicts within shifter families that is simple enough to absorb but also complex enough to enjoy.  The focus of the story is the relationship between the two men (or a cat and a man), but I found the details surrounding the shifter setting, behavior, and conflict to be possibly more interesting.


Recommended for fans of: Housecat shifters; feline attitudes; alternate shifter paradigms.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat:  fire  fire  – While mostly about characters, there is a small but heated bit of sizzle.
Passion:  heart  heart  – The relationship is a bit more as friendship and respect, but some chemistry builds.
Genre:  Adult Romance


Other Comments:
There was another character who was incidentally bisexual, and I am appreciating seeing this type of queer man receive some attention in this genre, as we do make up a significant portion of men who love men.

Fieldwork by Charles Payseur (review)

Tagline: Shy shifter with a secret is thrust into a dangerous, field-agent assignment with a buff partner (who just might be a “danger” in his own way)

Fieldwork Book Cover Image

Title: Fieldwork 
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Short Story (12k words, 38 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-510-6

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: Everyone thinks Agent Ignacio Ritter, a desk agent at the Central Xenomorph Organization, is a wolf-shifter, and he is too embarrassed to reveal the truth.  When paired with tiger shifter field Agent Reed Daily, mysteries may be investigated.


Review:  Overall, this was an enjoyable, quick jaunt into the life of an accountant with a “shameful” secret being drawn out into dangerous but important situation and exposed to a big, tough, and interesting man.  I’m a sucker for the shy, quiet protagonist being drawn out by more agresssive characters around them, and this aspect of the story worked very well for me.  As a reserved anti-hero, Nacho was not too passive, but for me had a nice balance of awkwardness with a reason or two to stand forth.  Reed was not very complex, but a pleasantly tantalizing and accepting foil for the more introverted protagonist.  The Chicago mob theme added an interesting flavor, with a shifter twist, but was mostly dressing for Nacho’s personal struggle and story.

Recommended for fans of:  Awkward, smaller, less aggressive protagonists; buff men who respect and like the quiet, little guy; a nod to Chicago mob activity with a shifter twist.

Sizzle:
Heat: fire  –   Not explicit, but the promise of more…
Passion: heart    heart  – There clearly was some attraction between the two, and a start to some chemistry.
Genre:  Adult Romance


Other Comments:

I enjoyed the plot device regarding target practice giving the two potential partners a reason to quickly expose some of their story to each other (and the reader).  “For every shot you miss, you answer one of my questions.”

Shifter By Mark Wildyr (review)

Tagline: The young native, his best bud, the enchanted isle, and trans-formative magic witch unleashes true desires with plenty of sizzle

Shifter Book Cover Image

Title: Shifter
Author: Mark Wildyr
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Erotica
Format:  Short Story (5k words, 19 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-508-3

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:  Recently come of age, Gray Fox paddles across the lakes to visit his long-time but separated friend.  A spirit on an enchanted isle has ideas on how the young man should enter adulthood, perhaps giving the canoeist a story to share upon their reunion.

Review:  This erotic story might not be typical m/m romance, or necessarily appealing to those looking for more romantic, relationship focused stories, or typical shifters.  This rather atypical shifter really worked for me, and the combination of a coming of age/”first-time” sizzle with just enough of an interesting story and relationship really worked for me.

In short, the native/indingenous setting was a nice frame for a rather sizzling short tale, invoking some nice “shifting” magic to turn up the heat.  A budding attraction between two recently come of age young men was a light but appreciated touch to round out the “first time” vibe.  This alternate shifter might not work for some readers of m/m romance, but I really liked the weave of sizzle, magic, a trans-formation, and a bit of young love (or at least lust).

Recommended for fans of:  Nicely sexual native/indigenous/First People spirituality and shifting; those who don’t mind a bit of a feminine touch in their m/m romance;  sexy witch stories.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat: fire fire fire  –  The focus of this read was the explicit heat which, for some readers, might be a tad different than typical m/m romance encounters.
Passion: heart  heart   – Clearly some atraction between the two friends, but the physical heat seemed more important.
Genre:  Erotica


Other Comments (with spoilers):
I personally loved the gender fluid aspect of the story, a bit of a trans-forming witchcraft made the “witch” character an intriguing place to me (and I personally am not squicked by female sexuality mixed in with my m/m romance).
Also, two “straight” young men overcoming their prejudice and enjoying what they have likely longed for.

Werewolf PTA by Felicitas Ivey (review)

Tagline: A doctor with an exotic pedigree comes to a small town only to encounter mysterious deaths – and an attraction to the lawman charged with investigating them

Werewolf PTA Book Cover Image

Cover Art: Bree Archer
Title: Werewolf PTA  
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novella (18k words, 51 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-509-0

Retail:  $2.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star star  (3 stars)

After reading this story, my reaction was very mixed and I was unsure as how to rate it.  As an innovative and interesting shifter story, I enjoyed a somewhat novel approach to “romantic” shifter stories and would give it 4 stars.  However, the romantic relationship was not very compelling to me and perhaps rates just an “o.k” (2.5 to 2.75 stars).  If I average the two, it results in a 3.2 to 3.3 star rating overall

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: Malak, a doctor of Persian descent who recently set up practice in a small town, knows the three men killed on the night of three different PTA meetings had very suspicious deaths. However, dis cussing his true beliefs with the sheriff may be difficult, as he has a hard time keeping his eyes off the attractive lawman.

Review: The story and ideas felt refreshingly innovative for a shifter story to me as a reader of paranormal romances, although are probably not uncommon in speculative fiction.  The multi-cultural background of a character or two was integrated nicely into the shifter mythos and even a bit into the fearful reaction of a small-town.  Overall, the plot and mechanics of the shifter setting and story interested and intrigued me as a reader.

Unfortunately, I did not find the relationship very compelling.  Mechanically, it’s hard to point to anything in particular but I will just say it didn’t work for me, especially once Faysal entered the picture.  Indeed, I found myself feeling more of a creepy vibe than a lusty, attraction chemistry between the pair.


Recommended for fans of:  Investigations of deadly, evil threats in a Supernatural– style; shifters versus weres; characters of Middle Eastern/Muslim/Persian origin.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat: fire fire  – There were two quick and nicely heated scenes.
Passion: heart   – The chemistry of characters did not work for me, although the doctor’s sweetness on the sheriff (as opposed to others) worked nicely into the plot.
Genre:  Adult Romance


Other Comments (with spoilers):

 

As somebody who lived through the AIDS crisis and lost a ex-lover during the period, the “I’ve got a one month test so let’s bareback” really squicked me out.  (This is kind of strange, as I think sometimes I don’t bat an eye at unprotected sex in romance novels if the safety issue is not mentioned. This particular scene made me want to go re-read Hope by Rick Reed.)

 

I enjoyed when Faysal spoke with a fake, over-the-top Middle Eastern accent to get the goat of any xenophobic, close-minded listeners.  I had an Iranian colleague who occasionally piled on a thick Persian accent to tease people, and I heard his voice when Faysa took on his rather provocative attitude.

Daniel’s Lynx by Ava Hayden (review)

Tagline:  Jilted fifty-something veterinarian discovers the beauty of small town wilderness, including a rare Lynx and a hunky neighbor

Daniel's Lynx Book Cover Image

Cover: Catt Ford
Title: Daniel’s Lynx
Author: Ava Hayden
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Shifter Romance
Format:  Novella (15k words, 55 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-507-6

Retail:  $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star star star  half-star  ( 4.5 stars – I really liked/loved it.)

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: At fifty-five, Daniel had lost his wandering, cheating partner of over a decade, and needed a new start.  Moving from the city to resume his veterinary practice at a remote wildlife reserve seemed just the ticket.  His new home was plenty intriguing, including visiting wildlife, a rather rare lynx, and a sexy, mature new neighbor, Ronan.

Review:  The author does a good job of taking some standard shifter themes and tweaking them just enough to make them a bit more interesting and believable.  Even more intriguing, the story wraps these paranormal ideas around sometimes neglected romance themes, including mature men and a lover jilted by an ex going through a midlife crisis.  For those looking for  young, fresh, extra-heat this might not be quite the right mix.  However, readers who appreciate a decent dose of sweetness woven into stories of slow recovery form deeply felt betrayal and restarting life in one’s 50’s, it’s a delightful story with just the right touch of bittersweet flavor.  For a novella, the work does an excellent job at incorporating a good range of themes, including clumsy conversations, painful memories, and slow but steady recovery, while not ignoring lust or passion or sizzle.

Recommended for fans of:  romance for the mature/middle-aged men; traditional shifter themes with a slightly different  take; the sweetness of establishing a true connection after betrayal; rustic, small-town, wildlife friendly settings; a bit of reality (death and danger to animals) in a wildlife setting.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat: fire  fire  – Although not the center piece of the novella, the two quickly sizzling scenes, including a first-time together and make up sex, were nicely realistic, lustful, and plot-appropriate, if a bit brief.
Passion: heart heart  – The attraction of the men seemed real.  The physical chemistry was a bit understated but definitely present, and a friendlier, more deepset passion balancing vulnerabilities, physical attraction, and growing friendship blossomed slowly.
Genre:  Adult Romance


Other Comments (with spoilers):

I found this to be an excellent if bittersweet exposition of a mature man separating from a partner who took a different direction.  After 14 years together, Daniel’s break-up with Kit wasn’t quick or easy for the mature man, which I really appreciated.

 

“He’d spent months in a fog. He’d kept wearing the ring long after Kit had made it clear that they were over. And no matter what Jonathan said, that really was pathetic.”

 

One of my favorite parts was the shifter reveal, believable enough and different enough to be nicely inventive and a good break from the most common type of shifter fare.

 

The lynx providing for his “family” was adorable – “Words didn’t say love the way mouse tails did.”

Spiked and Feathered by Jessica Walsh (review)

Tagline: Stressed call center boy hits a new bar leading to sizzling and feathered stress-relieving experiences

spiked-and-feathered

Title: Spiked and Feathered 
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Short Story (7k words, 21 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-506-9

Retail:  $1.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star half-star (2.75 stars – I liked it ok.)

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


Synopsis: After a particularly bad day on the phones,  Anthony hits a strange bar to unwind a bit, and hits it hard. The results include a hint of just what kind of bar it is and just what kind of trip that kind of establishment can deliver, but the evening in the bar was just the beginning.  Waking up within sweet shits and a hint of feathers takes Anthony to another level of “escape” from work.

Review: While this is another story that is not overly compelling, it was certainly an enjoyable trip.  Anthony was very sympathetic, the grind at the end of the day all too real and his attempt to escape and unwind (and overindulge) read well – nicely evocative of the “bad day at a bad job” blues.  After an empathetic set up, the journey turns plenty wilder and hotter, with trip into typical/sexy and a bit more fantastic fantasy spiced with sizzle and a bit of imagination.

Recommended for fans of: quick, heated escapes at the end of a long day; bird shifters; frustrated workers looking for some (a bit sizzling) relief.

Sizzle:
Explicit Heat: fire fire fire – For a short story, there were a couple of heated and explicitly enticing exchanges.
Passion: heart  heart  heart   – The chemistry was physical but the lust and excitment seemed true.
Genre:  Adult Romance


Other Comments:
I am very much enjoying the emergence of openly (and usually non-chalantly) bisexual main characters.

Love lessons by Heidi Cullinan

Tagline: Jaded player and romantic twink forced to share a college dorm room

Love Lessons Book Cover

Title: Love Lessons

Author: Heidi Cullinan

Genre:  Male/male romance
Format:  Novel (373  pages)
Series: Love Lessons #1

Book Sites: Author | Publisher  | Goodreads
Publisher: Samhain (Oct. 2013)
ISBN: 9781619218277

Rating: star1 star star star star1 (I loved it! )

Synopsis:  Jaded Walter Lucas is forced to leave his off-campus apartment and room in a single room with freshmen Kelly Davidson. Kelly is a gay man right out of a Disney princess mold, with an extreme naïveté when it comes to relationships and love, and who has a deep, abiding belief in true romance.  His older roommate is a bit of a player, and his example just might shake the innocent lad’s faith in love.  Throw  in campus politics, impactful family issues, and constant tension and Walter is in for a challenging year.

Review:  Brilliant.  Sappy and cute at its core with a decent amount of sharp edges around the story.  O.k., clearly this is my kind of story: well-written; a familiar (to me) setting explored accurately and realistically; real world cynicism vs. romantic idealism; and two opposite characters I really like and relate to.

Heidi Cullinan was already one of my favorite authors for her Minnesota Christmas series, and this work shifts from small-town, northern Minnesota bear-like men to a college campus setting. As much as I loved the previous series, the antics of two college kids, a wealthy but alienated player and a small-town romantic, was a wonderful romp through college romance.

It’s hard for me to be objective, as the writer’s work on Minnesota small-towns and Midwestern college campuses rings extraordinarily true for me, as those locales are central to my own personal background. However, the sometimes awkward but often sweet chemistry between the protagonists is even more entertaining and captivating for me. So count me as a fan boy and you can take my review as one enamored with the author’s setting, characters, and writing, but it’s clearly one of my personal favorites.

Recommended for fans of:  Disney (especially princess movies); naive gay boys saving themselves for Mr. Right; jaded men fighting through family, abuse and relationship issues that made them so cynical in the first place; extremely sweet if at times a bit difficult coming-of-age stories.

Sizzle:
Heat: fire  fire  fire – While trust and love and growth are the focus of the work, the explicit and sensual scenes are wonderfully heated reinforcements of the story.
Chemisty: heart heart heart heart – The unconsummated attraction, like, and love is very powerful, and the building lust and love between the jaded player and the Disney romantic underlies the friendship and the chemistry.
An example of the non-sexual passion:  Even though watching a Disney movie together and holding him close while they slept had been better than any sex Walter had ever had in his life.
Genre:  Adult Romance

 

Additional Comments:

Originally read and rated in 2014.  Re-read in 2016 as a new installment in the series has been released.