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.

Sizzle:
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.
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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

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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.

Sizzle:
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).

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Sizzle:
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.”