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.

Sizzle:
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.

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

 

Omega to the Ranchers by Stephen Hoppa

Omega to the Ranchers Book Cover

Title: Omega to the Ranchers
Author: Stephen Hoppa
Genre:  M/M Paranormal Erotica
Format:  Novella (115 p.)
SitesGoodreads | Amazon
Series: Becoming Omega #1
Publisher: Amazon (Oct. 2015)
AISN: B017EKHM9K

2.5 stars (out of 5)

Tagline: Abused human omega rescued and respected by Alpha and Beta werewolves (Alpha/omega ménage erotic story)

I received a free, epub copy of this story in exchange for an honest review.

A brief, novella-length story of an abused, straight, and human omega taken in by two hunky werewolves, including the pack Alpha and his caring but tough Beta mate.  The plot follows their somewhat careful move towards a “triad” ménage relationship navigating through the vicissitudes of pack politics, personal histories of abuse, and fears of the omega simply being used.  Includes explicit scenes of first-time with men, voyeurism, lightish Domination/submission, and fully threeway ménage.

I read this twice, and the first go through was somewhat enjoyable, while a second, closer reading was less compelling.  This came across a simplistic, easy to read, but occasionally eye-rolling quick jaunt through erotic and/or romantic themes I enjoy, including werewolf pack dynamics (especially involving omegas),  fully “triad” ménage relationships, and a rescue from abuse theme.  While I did not find the story to be particularly compelling, it worked o.k. as a diversionary, escapist read with a little Alpha/Beta/Omega werewolf sizzle.

I agree with other reviewers who have indicated this fits nicely into the “Stormy Glenn” category of m/m erotic romance, where explicit stories have enough plot to be separated from pure erotica/smut, but with writing that has plenty of cheesy, simplistic, and sometimes eye-rolling passages.  In other words, this works for a basic, somewhat heated werewolf ménage read rather than a compelling romantic/erotic story.

Positive moments included a chuckle for the phrase “werewolf-sexual” (as opposed to bisexual or homosexual) to explain the (human) omega’s sudden attraction to two strong (werewolf) males, highlighting a subdued form of the “instant mate” trope.   Also, there were repeated, decent character actions regarding the slightly contrasting roles the Alpha and Beta played for the Omega.

While Eric’s touch said, “I own you,” Tyler’s said, “I’m going to take care of you.”

Overall rating:  It was o.k. for a short, explicit werewolf ménage escape – 2.5 stars.   Therefore, following the general “star” meaning indicators,  rounded down to  2 stars (“o.k.”) in Goodreads, and up to 3 stars (“o.k.”) in Amazon.

 

Examples of problematic moments:

Unconcerned alpha: The pack alpha, Eric, doesn’t have an omega to ground him, so members of his pack are turning “feral” (which seems like a fate close to death, if not worse), three alone within that last few weeks.  Instead of discussing this issue at a pack meeting, Eric dismisses it and starts talking about the improvement in pack finances (much to the dismay of the pack members).

Missing poster: Apparently an abusive, cop father distributed a large number of MISSING posters after he severely beat his 19 year-old kid (almost to death?) and left him to probably die.  It just didn’t make sense – perhaps he was trying to cover-up his abuse, in case people asked what happened to his (adult) son and/or if the victim’s body suddenly turned up?

Feel of the ranch: At one time, the omega exclaims “The entire property with the ranch probably cost millions. Or fuck, I dunno, billions?”  During the rest of the story, the pack’s ranch came across as more of a struggling concern (or at least all of the pack members were very hard working and the finances/margins didn’t seem particularly great).  So either the “millions/billions” statement was supposed to indicate the new, human omega was clueless when it came to real-world finances (billions?), or the feel the author was trying to convey was inconsistent.  (In the rest of the book, it came across a semi-struggling concern where the Alpha had to put in plenty of hard work, versus a more comfortable, CEO type of role.)  This is just an example of how the writing did not come across as particularly compelling, detailed or believable.  (And yes, I realize if one is focused on the erotic aspects, those details don’t matter much, but overall this type of writing undermined any greater pull beyond the erotic heat from the broader story.)

Sudden, rough-ish, rather Dominant/submissive sex: 

On the one hand, the Alpha and Beta were extraordinarily and repeatedly concerned about the Omega making a choice to be with them out of his own free will and not feel forced, even though continued delay in their formal claiming was endangering the lives of individual pack members.  On the other, the pair has no problems quickly leading the virginal, abused omega into rough-ish (“fuck my face”) submissive sex, and basically using him in a tit-for-tat sex game.  Again, while this is not necessarily out of place in an erotic story meant to be enjoyed for semi-kinky heat, but gives the surrounding story an unbelievable (or at least inconsistent) feel.

“He jerked my head back and forced it back down, using me so hard and rough, I could hardly take it, but I wanted it so fucking bad that I was moaning around his delicious skin.”

“Then he grabbed me by the hair, jerked me to my feet, and thrust me up against a fence post. His hand came down hard against my ass cheek. The ringing smack sent trembles of need through my body.

“You’re going to get it hard for that.”

“Please, please fuck my face.”

 

“But I want you to get this. It wasn’t that you dominated me that made me feel weird. It was that I felt like I was being used in a game. I felt like, like I was on the outside of your relationship”

 

“Or no, maybe they just wanted to see me on my knees, choking on their cocks as the dominated me. That thought alone was so hot, I could almost cum all over again.”

“Oh yeah, take it like an omega.”

Wettened:  A quote from the book: “Tyler’s wettened hands…”  Technically, this is a grammatically correct usage of the past participle of the word wetten as an adjective, but it’s an extraordinarily uncommon usage (and, to my mind, rather awkward construction) in current English.  I don’t know whether to be impressed by such a surprise, or bothered by how it awkward it sounded to me.  I wondered if it were a regional usage (the author used the word centre, so I thought he might be British or Australian).  The extraordinarily little usage of this word I could find was scattered across only a three dozen articles in British, Australian, Canadian and American newspapers. (Only thirty eight uses of the word found in five billion documents in LexisNexis, and similar results in other news, business, and academic databases.)