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.

More Fish in the Sea by Fil Preis (review)

Tagline:  Betrayed Wiccan bisexual slips to Hawaii to beseech the Moon to get away from the players and sharks, but the tricky, finicky Goddess delivers a shifty shark anyway

More Fish in the Sea Book Cover Image

Title: More Fish in the Sea
Author: Fil Preis
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novella (18k words, 49 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-505-2

Retail: $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star star  half-star  (3.5 stars – I 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: The Arizona dude did not trust his Wiccan bisexual boyfriend to be true, so he cheated first. The Hawaiian shark shifter lost his boyfriend when the modern man refused to respect the traditional, spiritual beliefs of the Islands’ native and mysterious people.  Can a Wiccan’s prayer to the moon be answered?  Can a man from the people of the Shark ever find someone who respects him?  And how can two betrayed men ever learn to trust another?

Review: While this was not an extremely revitting read for me, overall the themes of betrayal and trust combined with some interesting and enticing spirituality worked rather well as a plenty entertaining and nicely different story.  The background and setting – which had at least a bit of complexity and nuance – needed to be explored and explained quickly in this novella, and the character writing moved along nicely without it being too mechanical or simply plodding exposition.  While I found the themes personally enjoyable, I also appreciated how they meshed internally for each of the protagonists’ stories as well as the satisfying manner in which they eventually came together.  I wasn’t totally bowled over, but I very much enjoyed reading a cool story about some common relationship themes wrapped nicely in some alternative character and cultural concepts.

Recommended for fans of:  Lovable sharks; indigenous/pagan/Wiccan spirituality; Hawaii; bisexuals finding their one true love.

Explicit Heat: fire  fire   –  A couple of mostly fade to black moments, but with a tiny bit of explicit tid-bits.
Passion: heart heart – The past hurt borne by each character gave some life and chemistry to their connection.
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments:
I absolutely loved how the unfair stereotype of bisexuals that they can be expected to stray was turned on it’s head. (It’s as ridiculous as expecting someone to stray because they find both blondes and brunettes attractive, but that “bi must be unfaithful” stereotype is definitely out there among both gay and straight partners.)
Jarrett also couldn’t change the fact that he was bisexual. Bradan kept making comments that Jarrett was going to cheat on him with a woman, or that he didn’t have the guts to come out as gay. Jarrett wasn’t a cheater. He believed in one partner at a time. And he’d definitely had the guts to tell his family that he was dating Bradan. Why didn’t Bradan understand? How did the fact that he’d dated a girl in high school, and loved her, and found her attractive, somehow become, in Bradan’s mind, proof that Jarrett’s attraction wasn’t as “pure” as his? And in the end, Jarrett wasn’t the one who’d cheated.”

Holy Cow! by E.M. Lynley (review)

Tagline: American medical student visits India and stumbles into the home of the Nandi, shifter descendants of Shiva’s personal mount

Holy Cow! Book Cover Image

Title: Holy Cow! 
Author:  E.M. Lynley
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Shifter Romance
Format:  Novella (17k words, 52 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-503-8

Retail:  $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star star star  (4 stars 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: American Duncan Stirling takes a break from his medical studies to travel India with his honeymooning friends.  He appreciates the wonders of the culture, especially in the magical city of Jaisalmer, where he meets a revered bull as well as Akash, an extremely attractive man from a well-connected family.

Review: This story succeeded on multiple levels, including multicultural explorations, family conflicts, a touch of personal sacrifice among friends, and an interesting shifter dynamic.  The short but interesting introduction to an aspect or two from an “exotic” (from a isolated American perspective) but vastly influential world culture was appreciated and made for a nice change of locale and mythology within this genre. I particularly appreciated the brief but enticing descriptions of India in general and Jaisalmer in particular. While there was only a tiny bit of cultural and religious aspects explored, the political intrigue related to shifters was also effectively and quickly woven into the short plot of this novella.  I also liked that neither “side” in various conflicts were monolithic and most of the characters (including an antagonist or two) had defensible if conflicting motives.

Finally, for a relatively short work, I think the author did a decent job of entwining the two protagonists in a relatively quick manner.  The story includes very brief descriptions of the physical intimacy, yet the connection and passion between the characters seemed rather real.  All in all, the novella took a quick trip to an “exotic” locale, with an interesting and alternative shifter setting, presented an array of interesting characters outside of the couple, wove a decent tale of shifter intrigue, and provided passion without relying on detailed, explicit explorations of their physical intimacy.

It was an enjoyable and entertaining jaunt into an enticing shifter setting.

Recommended for fans of: Indian/Hindu mythology; Brahman bulls; developing a passionately intimate couple without dwelling on extensive explicit scenes.

Explicit Heat: fire fire – While there were multiple intimate scenes, they were mostly one sentence fade to black descriptions, with only slightly longer explorations of a couple of key intimate moments.
Passion: heart heart heart – the emotional and physical chemistry between the characters actually seemed palpable, even though the work was short and the physical intimacy mostly off-page
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments (spoilers):
I also appreciated that despite the very brief descriptions of physical heat, the author included that the partner who happens to also be a huge, hulking, supernatural bull (and therefore fit very nicely on top) was also physically receptive of his human lover.
When Akash tracked Duncan across the desert, riding on a stallion to find his erstwhile lover, the scene evoked a nicely romantic and even a bit passionate response in this reader.

Wild Fate by Savannah Brooks (review)

Tagline: A man in the Alaska wilds tells the traveling photographer he is fated to mate a bear – an insta-mate, lumbersexual, mpreg story that works

Wild Mate Book Cover Image

Title: Wild Fate 
Genre:  Paranormal M/M Shifter Romance
Format:  Novella (17k words, 55 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Book Sites: AuthorPublisherGoodreads
Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-501-4

Retail:  $3.99

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

Rating:   star star  star  half-star  (3.5  stars – I liked it a lot.)

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

Synopsis: Caden is a wildlife photographer looking forward to spending time isolated in the Alaska wilderness practicing his craft – until he meets Drake.  The rough and tumble lumberjack of a man has a reputation for being a grumpy loner, but when Caden gets past the initial awkward meeting, his mind (and other parts of his anatomy) can’t stop thinking about the rustic hunk of a man.  When Drake tells Caden they are fated mates and, oh yeah, he can turn into a bear, the functioning brain in the photographer doubts the wisdom of staying in an isolated cabin near this man, while his body seems to have other ideas.

Review:  Fated and “instant” mate stories are often drafted with too much of a trope that seems incredibly artificial and unbelievable.  For a short story, this author handles the “insta-mate” phenomenon with some fineness and more credulity than many novels.  While the pairing was a central theme, surrounding setting and plot devices nicely brought out and reinforced the hesitant yet strong connection between the two, yielding for a pretty decent, quick, and enjoyable read.

Spoiler:  On top of a good insta-mate bear shifter story, the author adds a hot lumbersexual and mpreg in a very readable and decently written story – nice work for topics that often veer into incredibly cheesey, simplistic, or sex-focused smutty reads.

Recommended for fans of (spoilers):   Bear shifters, lumbersexuals, mpreg, and couples with kids.

Explicit Heat: fire fire – Only a couple explicit scenes, but they add an appropriate, nice sizzle to the story.
Passion: heart heart  heart – The instant mate attraction and need for each other was handled in a pretty decent manner, reinforcing the story without losing all believability.
Genre:  Adult Romance

Other Comments (spoiler):

Human mates, instant/fated mates, mpreg, bisexual character – this story covers many of my favorite themes.

A Wolf’s Résistance by T.J. Nichols (review)

Tagline: Loup-garou in the French resistance flees to an isolated blacksmith, where the forge may burn hot in a sizzling and scarring manner…

Wolf's Resistance Book Cover Image

Title: A Wolf’s Résistance 
Author: T.J. Nichols
Genre:  Historical Paranormal M/M Romance
Format:  Novella (15k words, 47 pages)

Series: Walk on Wild Side

Publisher: Dreamspinner (June 2016)

ISBN: 978-1-63477-487-1

Also available:  Walk on Wild Side Anthology

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

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

Note on rating: This story might be a little dark for some romance readers, but its depiction of gay men living in an especially hostile, pre-sexual revolution/LGBT-rights movement world very much resonated as truthful, accurate, and in the end intensely intriguing to me.

Synopsis: As a loup-garou, Renny was valuable to the French Resistance, but was also identified by the Germans and their French collaborators as especially dangerous and physically branded as such. Unable to return to his pack due to his proclivities, upon escaping and fleeing his captors, he heads for a small town.  Stumbling upon a blacksmith’s cottage on the edge of town, his wolf can’t keep his attention away from a coup of delicious chickens.  As with all living in occupied France, Marc struggles to make ends meet, perhaps even more than most given his physical handicap and his unnatural attractions.  A wolf menacing his chickens is something he cannot risk, and he’s a good shot with his rifle.

Review: I put off reading this story, as the description intimated it might be rather dark.  I have studied Vichy France and suspected this might not be a pleasant tale.  While it certainly was not a light, sweet romantic story, and it might be a bit too dark for some romance readers, it was absolutely perfect for me.  In part, I think I related to it because it seems to me to present a good, realistic flavor of how difficult it was to be a gay man before the sexual and cultural revolution of the last forty years.

The writing gripped me from the beginning, with initial scene of a resistance fighter (and wolf shifter) on the run from German-aligned French “soldiers” (Milice militia-like policemen, I assume).  The author’s slight tweaks on typical shifter paradigms, including significant but not complete healing from injuries, also signified this would not be a typical shifter tale. The strength of the work, however, had little to do with the paranormal aspects, but the struggles of two injured men trying to survive in an extremely hostile world, and both doing at least a bit of their part towards a better future.

The romantic connection might be considered rather flat compared to many entries in this genre, but to me the whole story was a slow, steady, and very palpable building of an intimate connection, even if it was deeply internalized and not apparent to others (or even themselves).  Actually, this slow, internal build seemed to ring very true for those who had to live extremely closeted life.

Recommended for fans of: Stories of gay men trying to survive in an extremely hostile, homophobic environment; World War II/French resistance settings.

Heat: fire  –  There was one, brief semi-explicit and somewhat euphemistic oral encounter, and a couple of fade to black moments.
Passion: heart heart  –  The chemistry of the characters was low-key but slowly builds to something very palpable to me. (Others might find the intimate connection to be bland, but it reverberated to me as how gay men needed to express themselves before the sexual and LGBT revolution)
Genre:  Romance

Other Comments:

The story indicated the pursuers were French soldiers, but by 1944 I believe the remnants of the Vichy French Army had been dissolved, and in any case had been restricted to the Vichy controlled area.  In its place, a French fascist militia-like police force had been raised, and operated in all of occupied France, including the Vosges Mountains where this story is set. The only true soldiers in this area would have been German units (including possibly German SS units that included French  volunteers, but they wouldn’t be considered fighting for France per se).  I’ve always heard the Milice referred to as police and not soldiers, but their militia-style uniforms certainly had a military appearance, so I assume the “French  soldiers” were actually Milice police (militiamen).

Soul Mate for Sale by Kian Rhodes (review)

Tagline: Abused human omega bought and mated by caring Alpha

Soul Mate for Sale Book Cover

Title: Soul Mate for Sale

Author: Kian Rhodes

Genre:  M/M Paranormal Erotic Romance
Format:  Novella (75 pages)
Series: The Omega Auction #1

Publisher: NDP Publications (March 2016)
ISBN: 9781530791543

Bonus: Kindle Unlimited title

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Tagline:  Abused human omega bought and mated by caring Alpha

This was a straight-forward, male/male romance story of an abused human omega sold and rescued by an attentive, caring Alpha werewolf. It’s set in a twist on an “omegaverse” universe where male Alphas knot and impregnate Omegas. The plot was simple, following the omega from abuse to life and love in a new pack. The theme of rescue was fine, but the characters were a bit flat.  While the chemistry between them had some sizzle overall it wasn’t particularly enticing to me.

In many ways, this reminded me of a “Stormy Glenn”/Siren Erotic Romance type of erotic story, which usually focus on plenty of explicit heat and conflict with quick moving plots, rapidly developing relationships and simplistic dialog.  This book has better dialog but much less drama, plot, and relationship conflict. Overall, it was a pleasantly diverting novella, providing a bit of knotting and potential Mpreg (male pregnancy) in a sweet, short Alpha and Omega story. The sizzle was present but relatively tame, punctuating an enjoyable if not overly heated quick and comforting read.

Heat: Plenty of physical tension and explicit scenes building from quick releases to full knotting

Note: This series, The Omega Auction, should not be confused with The Omega Auctions series by April Andrews. 

Unacceptable Risks by Kaje Harper (review)

Unacceptable Risk Book Cover

Title: Unacceptable Risk
Author: Kaje Harper
Genre:  M/M Paranormal Romance
Format:  Novel (111,000 words)
Sites: Publisher | Goodreads | Amazon 
Series: Hidden Wolves #1
Publisher: MLR (Oct. 2011)
ISBN: 9781608204649

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline:  Ostracized and wounded gay werewolf falls and fights for “straight” veterinarian  

Heat: Several explicit scenes (nicely contextual to the plot)

This book has been on my Goodreads “to read” shelf longer than any other title, as I added it in 2013.  I wish I had read it sooner as, after an initially slow start, this novel turned out to have some of my favorite paranormal male/male romance themes presented with just the right balance for me. The story centers on a gay werewolf ostracized and attacked for his orientation, usually a capital offense among his kind.  The town’s young, straight veterinarian saves a bloodied and beaten wolf, and the shapeshifter befriends, falls for, and seduces the animal doctor who has his own troubled past.

I am particularly fond of wolfpack politics, human mates coming to terms with shifter culture, virginal/inexperienced men coming exploring with a new lover, and geeky-ish and awkward but intelligent protagonists.  This novel had nice doses of all of the above, and I especially appreciated the presence of a “traditional” shifter culture that provided plenty of danger while retaining a consistent, if unpleasant and dangerous  world-view.  Even many of the heroes’ potential allies were uncertain and some of the adversaries showed a bit more nuance in political pack scheming than I was expecting.

The physical sizzle was enticing but used sparingly enough to add to the plot (rather than overwhelming the story). In a very nice twist, a reciprocal surprise between the lovers was seamlessly woven into the story.  The ultimate connection between the two technically did not center on intercourse (although those scenes were delicious), but woven into whether trust and accepting one’s emotions could lead to a sudden, deep connection.

I’m looking forward to reading more by this author (who has been popular – I have some catching up to do), including the next two works in this series.

Themes:  Male/male romance, werewolves, pack politics, gay for you, virgin/first-time, mate-for life, human mate, homophobia, gay shapeshifters, wounded, geeks, Minnesota