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Duncan da Husky
28 December 2016 @ 08:26 am

And so we come to the end of 2016 and like everyone else and their damn brother, it's time for me to look back and review. Specifically, I'm reviewing what I've been reading. Because I'm an engineer, I love statistics. Running the numbers, we have:

I read 108 books this year, or 27,289 pages. All of those fall in the gay romance (fiction) category. Looking over my Goodreads reviews, the breakdown is:
5 Star Reviews: 32%
4 Star Reviews: 43%
3 Star Reviews: 17%
2 Star Reviews:  4%
Did Not Finish:  5% (not included in the page count, of course)

Generally if something was going to fall under 2 stars I just stopped reading it, though mercifully that was rare - 6 books for the year, in total. I admit that my general approach is to lean on Goodreads reviews (yeah, I know - Internet crowdsourced reviews, grain of salt, and so on). My criteria eventually become that the book must have more than 300 reviews, and the average rating must be over 3.65 (out of 5). That rule of thumb has served me pretty well, as the review summary shows.

Of my 5-star books, 33% were contemporary settings and 66% were shifters of some kind (canine, feline, etc.). I, um, may have a particular kind of subgenre I enjoy?

So, what were my favorite reads of 2016? I'll start by saying that this is not limited to books published in 2016. I only started reading the gay romance genre in 2015, and I still feel that I'm just brushing the surface of the wonderful books to be found there. My favorite thing to do has been to find a great author and dig into their back catalog, which may explain why my to-read list is at 70 books and growing!

First up, my favorite series:
Bear, Otter, and the Kid, by TJ Klune (Contemporary, Slice-of-Life)
(Bear, Otter and the Kid, Who We Are, The Art of Breathing)
These books are all about the characters. From the neurotic Bear to the steadfast Otter and the Kid, who is too wise for his years.  They are all simply fantastic. The dialogue is snappy and funny, and yet the situations are so real and heartbreaking at the same time. Every single one of these books made me cry, in a good way. TJ has a talent for characterizations that drags you in and grabs hold of you as the story unfolds.

Hidden Wolves, by Kaje Harper (Shifters, Suspense)
(Unacceptable Risk, Unsettled Interlude, Unexpected Demands, Unwanted Appeal, Unjustified Claims, Unsafe Exposure)
Harper has created an amazing setting here: Modern-day America but with a hidden subculture of werewolves, separate from humans. As the series progresses, we see what happens when the public suddenly finds out these people exist worldwide, and how the werewolves will survive in this sudden and new world. I love the characters here was well, but the overarching story kept me captivated beginning to end.

How to Howl at the Moon, by Eli Easton (Shifters, Humorous)
(How to Howl at the Moon, How to Walk Like a Man, How to Wish Upon a Star)
This is much more lighthearted than the series above, and it's nice to have an occasional break. This series posits there is a small town hidden in the California Sierras when the population consists of the "Quickened" - humans who can shift into dogs of various breeds. Easton has fun playing off the traits of each breed but even as she does, she creates memorable characters, and book includes some really fun banter back and forth. Of special note is the audio version of this, narrated by Matthew Shaw. He does a remarkable job voicing the characters, keep the cast separated and imbuing each voice with a recognizable personality.

Infected, by Andrea Speed ( @notmanos) (Shifters, Mystery)
(Paris, Prey, Bloodlines, Life After Death, Freefall) More books still to be read, but that's where I am right now!
This is another fascinating setting with fantastic characters. An HIV-like virus has spread worldwide which causes those infected to transform into a feral feline five days out of the month - cougar, lion, leopard, panther, or tiger. The transformation takes a terrible toll, and the larger cats are in for a short, painful life. In the midst of all of this is Roan McKichan, an ex-cop turned private investigator who was born with the virus and is an oddity: he survived to adulthood. He is reaching an accommodation with his lion and becoming something the world has never seen before. This series is so engrossing! The mysteries are fun, but are window dressing for Speed's wonderful characters. Bloodlines in particular was incredible, and contains some of the most touching, heartwrenching writing I have ever read. This series only gets better and better!

Wolf, by AF Henley ( @afhenley) (Shifters, Suspense)
(Wolf, WY, Wolf, En Garde, Wolf, In League)
This is a great case of a series progressing in scope with each book. Henley has created a great world here of werewolves and vampires and who knows what else, all of whom exist without the knowledge of everyday society. Sinister forces, compelling characters, and plot twists galore make this a fun and engaging read.

And then there's the one-offs and beginnings of series that I have not yet had a chance to pursue:
Hell and High Water (THIRDS #1), by Charlie Cochet
Great police procedural/suspense with feline shifters. Fantastic characters and dialogue. The audio performance by Mark Westfield is amazing, some of the best I have ever heard on any audiobook. (And it is definitely performance, not narration!)

How to Be A Normal Person, by TJ Klune
This is TJ in full-on humorous mode, but even then he tell this story between a socially isolated misfit and an asexual hipster with warmth and sensitivity. Definitely the sweetest book I read this year, and the funniest too.

Into This River I Drown, by TJ Klune (sensing a theme here?)
A polar opposite of Normal Person, this book is remarkable. The setting itself is almost a character in the book, and it will drag you through the emotional wringer. Still, the writing is so damn good it is absolutely worth it.

Sidecar, by Amy Lane
A sweeping 25-year story of the romance between Joshiah and Casey. This is an example of Amy Lane at her best, with great characters, believable dialogue, and a strong and real relationship that I can only hope to emulate. It's not flashy or fancy, it's just a damn good story told damn well.

Hands down, though, my favorite book of 2016 is Wolfsong, by TJ Klune. The shifter story that TJ swore he'd never write, this book is epic without a doubt. It is also so much more than gay romance. This is modern fantasy more than anything. The story grabbed me from the start. The world of Ox and the Bennett family is so engaging and just incredibly well-written.  The fact that the book has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 on Goodreads with 2,500 ratings says a lot for it. Read it. Just read it.

As for 2017? There's so much more to read! It's astonishing because for the last 25 years or so I could count the numbers of books I read each year on one hand. I've found something that really resonates with me in these books, and it is so refreshing. People talk about the importance of representation in modern culture. All of this reading has driven that point home for me. These are gay characters, doing things that people do, and occasionally getting it on with another guy without the camera freaking out and cutting away. These are people I know. This is my life.

Something else worth mentioning, too: The gay (or m/m) romance genre is a small one, relatively speaking. The publishers aren't huge (there's many self-published books too!) and a widely-read book may still only have tens of thousands of readers, not millions. I've had the good fortune to interact with several of these authors over social media and it has made discovering this genre all the more enjoyable. As someone who grew up imagining authors as these unknowable figures on high pedestals, the ability to reach out directly to an author and say, "Hey, I really like this thing that you wrote" is fantastic. I know that if I were writer I would love to hear feedback, and if I can make someone feel good about their work I am more than happy to do so!

 
 
Duncan da Husky

Infected: Life After Death (Infected Book 3), by Andrea Speed

In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.

But when your heart is gone, it's easy to fall into a black hole and never crawl out. Roan has been lost and alone for more than a year, and his best friends think a new case might be just the motivation he needs. Roan forces himself back into the game and discovers a dead man who might not be all that dead, a street hustler that wants to hustle him, and a dominatrix who is well prepared to take Roan's orders. As Roan claws his way out of the darkness by diving back into his work, he finds himself in a race against time in the adrenaline-pumping realization that nothing helps a person want to live like helping someone else survive.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Normally I refrain from reviewing later books in a series since they don't have a lot of context to readers who haven't read the earlier books. I think that this review is necessary for me if only to document that after the emotionally draining end of Infected: Bloodlines, the story still carries on, and is definitely worth continuing.

As with Prey, Life After Death is two novellas sandwiched together. The first is by far more affecting. As Paris predicted, Roan took a long time to recover from his death (is this a spoiler? I suppose the title is a spoiler so...). Speed captures the depression that follows painfully accurately.

Roan idly wondered if he cared about anything and decided that no, he probably didn't. Should that bother him? Again, he didn't care.

We follow Roan as he slowly digs himself out of the worst depths, although he by no means fully recovers. His discussions with an imaginary Paris who haunts his hallucinations are touching and show a tender side that Roan tries so hard to hide.

"The pain is supposed to fade, right? Why isn't it? I still miss you so much I can barely stand it. I keep expecting to see you every time I open the office door."

Paris wrapped his arms around him and gave him a squeeze that he could almost feel. "Oh sweetie, it doesn't fade. No one should know better than an infected that pain doesn't ever really fade-you just get used to it."

We do get back into the swing of his life, though, as he begins to reach out and populate his world again with those who care about him. As he takes on new cases and slowly comes up for air, we continue to learn more about Roan, his lion, and the world around him.

The second novella is somewhat less successful, if only because it's almost more of an extended slice-of-life story. Over the course of the novella Roan takes and completes several cases, and the ending seems rushed. Even so the journey is worth it, because Speed makes spending time in Roan's world with his friends and his enemies enjoyable. Recommended.
 
 
Duncan da Husky

Infected: Paris (Infected Book 0.5) by Andrea Speed

Infected: Prey (Infected Book 1) by Andrea Speed

Infected: Bloodlines (Infected Book 2) by Andrea Speed

Rating: 5 out of 5 for the series (so far)

In the 1960's a virus was loosed that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. A vaccine was created, but the vaccine had...side effects. For those "infected" with the virus, five days out of every month they transform into a feral feline - cougar, lion, leopard, panther, or tiger. This is not a neat transformation, either:  it can take an hour or more, and is excruciatingly painful as all of the bones break, the body is re-formed, and mass is redistributed. The bigger the feline, the greater the toll it takes on the body, so while there are many cougars, tigers have a diminishingly short lifespan.

Roan McKichan is an oddity. Where almost all other infecteds caught the virus later in life, he was born with the virus and somehow lived when all other virus children usually die shortly after birth. A former cop and now a private detective, he is coming to an understanding with the lion inside him and becoming something the world has never seen before.

To say these books blew me away would be an understatement. Andrea Speed has created a world that is mesmerizing, and populated by unforgettable characters. Roan, first and foremost, is an utter smartass to anyone and everyone, with a history that explains why he must put up a tough-guy image to shelter his more caring and thoughtful self.

His boyfriend Paris, a tiger strain, is wonderful as well. He is cheerfully manipulative, taking advantage of his good looks and charisma any way that he can. Now, though, he has turned his life around and is, as they say, using his powers for good. The banter between these two is a joy to read, as they fall in love and quickly establish a cozy relationship both at work and at home. The side characters can be a little stereotypical (Roan's gruff cop friend for instance), but that is easily overlooked.

I read these books slightly out of order (Prey, Paris, Bloodlines) and I think that that is probably a good way to do it. Prey is actually two novellas put together, though they complement each other well. It is a great introduction to the world of Infected, and the reader quickly gets a feel for the flow Speed's writing. If I had one complaint it would be the sudden changes in point of view in the narration, jumping from Roan to Paris and back (and in one chapter to a tertiary character altogether!).

Paris is a prequel to Prey, showing how Paris and Roan met and fell in love. It provides great backstory for the two, and really allows you to become invested in the characters. The downside to this is when you get to Bloodlines. Here, the tiger strain is catching up to Paris, and even as Roan tries to maintain normalcy and carry on their lives, there is no denying that Paris is dying. I won't kid you - there is no happy ending here. Even so, it's some of the most powerful writing I've come across lately. Yes, I was a weeping mess, and yet the trip was utterly worth it.

I take heart that this is just the start to the Infected series. There are six more books, plus various novellas and short stories. Normally I would look at such a sprawling series in askance and wonder if the author is diluting the stories as they go, but from what I have read I have every faith that all of these will be excellent and enjoyable reads.

Finally, one last note: Although I came by these books through the M/M Romance genre, they are so much more than that. This is Urban Fantasy where the characters happen to be gay and have gay relationships. The bedroom door is closed in this series, which is to say that any sexytime takes place off-page. If the idea of romances has ever put anyone off, this is a great place to start to see what you’ve been missing!
 
 
Duncan da Husky


Werewolves of Brooklyn, by Brad Vance

Darien Mackey wasn’t looking for an adventure. For ten years, he’d been happy living in Brooklyn, working as a butcher in the same job, living in the same apartment, dating some “nothing-special” guys. Until one night his buddy Jacob talked him into taking ayahuasca, the soul-changing drug. And Darien had a vision…of a wolf, its all-too-human eyes on him, its paws on his chest, its enquiring mind in his own…

Darien Mackey is changing. He’s more confident, more assertive, hungrier, hornier. And his world is changing around him – his job, his home, his beloved Mechanic’s Library all falling victim to the predations of unscrupulous developers, bent on demolishing the old Brooklyn he loves and replacing it with a forest of condos. But he’s no longer a passive observer of his own life, and as this thing, this power, grows inside of him, he resolves to fight back, to preserve the way of life he loves.

And he’s not alone in the fight. The Lipsius Preservation Society of Brooklyn stands ready to assist in the battle, even though it seems like a bit of a joke to Darien, with its King and its Duke, Marquess, Earl and Viscount.

But there’s nothing funny about his growing attraction to Albeus Finley, King of this mysterious Court. And when slumlords and condo-mongers start to die mysterious, violent deaths at the hands of savage animals, Darien begins to realize that something is afoot in Brooklyn – something supernatural.

And it’s afoot in him, too…

Rating: 4 out of 5

There are so many great parts to this book. A great setting, fascinating world-building, interesting characters, and an interesting take on morality. Unfortunately it doesn't...quite...come together. The pacing seems off, and the plot threads that lead off in different directions are maddening. Even so, the writing is evocative and enjoyable.

Huge props to Vance for the research he has done, both in the skill of butchering and in the details of Civil War battles. Both have their place, and are used to excellent results. Darien's character arc is great fun to read, and seeing him grow into his place in the world is enjoyable. The side-characters are engaging as well (with some of those being the meandering plot threads). There is enough material here for a good four or five book series. I will definitely keep an eye out for more!

 
 
Duncan da Husky
08 December 2016 @ 09:13 am

I shared several breakfasts with you at Midwest FurFest this year. chatting about various convention things. We bitched and griped and laughed, a couple of old, snarky bastards who knew where the other was coming from.

You busted your ass in some of the most thankless jobs a convention has. I’d say you didn’t do it with any complaint, but you complained with the best of them, and you had every reason to. The convention improved because of that, too. I just found the first email I ever got from you, asking if it was too late to register for the first Midwest FurFest in 2000. Even then you were generous, willing to pay more to this new event if that was what it took for you to attend.

You had boyfriends who cared for you very much, through good times and bad. That speaks unbelievably well of you.

In the blink of an eye, you’re gone. One small wrong decision. The idea terrifies me, knowing the same could happen to anyone else I hold dear.

Goodbye, Scott. You were a good man, a good friend, and a damn good skunk. Your passing leaves a hole in my heart.
Tags:
 
 
 
Duncan da Husky


Six months after starting their hunt for a serial killer who is still at large, FBI agents Jerry Lee Parker and John Flynn are partners in every sense. But Jerry has serious doubts about their relationship and whether they would even be together if not for the way Flynn changed after touching a mysterious artifact in a museum.

Flynn hates the extraordinary power bestowed on him by the artifact and wants nothing more than to have a normal life again. Jerry fears that without the unusual connection they forged, Flynn will no longer want or need him. Chasing after a similar artifact takes them back to Flynn's old stomping grounds in Washington D.C., where his newfound abilities uncover long-buried secrets, the kind people would kill to protect. But they aren't the only ones looking for these powerful relics, and what they discover will threaten their relationship-and their lives.

Walk a Mile (The Sixth Sense #2) by Sarah Madison

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

This book starts with an interesting premise, carried over from the first book: two FBI agents, one of whom has accidentally acquired telepathic powers, fall together into a steamy relationship. Where do they go from here? How can this expand communication between them? Bet they could apply this to cracking tough cases, right?

Yeah, none of this happens. I feel like the premise is squandered in favor of further complicating matters. Flynn is an uncommunicative dick, and Parker has relationship interruptus. This is one of those frustrating books where so much could be sorted out if the characters just TALKED to each other. Instead (spoiler alert, though this happens early enough it comprises most of the book), a new artifact is introduced, and when they both touch it, Parker and Flynn switch bodies. Hilarity ensues!

OK, not really. Actually, confusion and angst ensue, and ever-increasing failures in communication. We get no closer to figuring out what the story is behind the artifacts. There is no character development, really. And in the end, an even-more unbelievable plot twist is introduced that blows the entire premise up anyway. Even though there is a sequel, I'm pretty much done here.

 
 
Duncan da Husky

Werewolf at the Zoo, by Charlie Richards

Helping his brother escape the zoo, Rainy discovers more than just an array of animals.

Rainy scouts the zoo, planning a mission to rescue his brother, who’d been sold by poachers while in wolf form. He gets a whiff of the most intoxicating scent, the man Travis Carlyle, his mate. But he quickly finds out that before he can claim the handsome veterinarian, Rainy has to convince Travis that he’s worth coming out of the closet for.

Travis leads a quiet, discreet life, avoiding any situation that could possibly out him to his family. After so many years alone, Travis finds the love, affection, and acceptance Rainy offers him too hard to resist. But just when he decides Rainy might be worth the persecution of revealing his sexuality, he discovers Rainy has been keeping secrets, a lot of secrets: Werewolves, Shifters, Mates? When he watches a shift with his own eyes, Travis is forced to accept the truth.

Too bad not everyone wants Travis to know the wolves’ secrets, tossing him into a feud between shifters. When Travis’s father tries to come between them, can Rainy convince Travis to choose a dangerous, love-filled life with him instead of the comfortable, quiet existence he’s led with his family?

Rating: 2 out of 5

This wasn't a story as much as it was a checklist of werewolf m/m romance tropes. We've got your insta-love, fated mates, "I know you by smell", silly alpha pack dynamics, biting during sex, and so on and so on. Add in some paper-thin homophobia, ridiculously quick acceptance of the impossible, subplots that go nowhere, and stunningly unlikely coincidences. The whole thing was topped off at the end with a lovely scene of, "It's a shame that I just had to rip that guy's throat out with my teeth. Hey, the steaks I was cooking look like they're done. Who's hungry?" Oh, and don't get me started on the overdone Irish dialect. Ugh.

Let's do the math:
+1 star because it wasn't so awful that I couldn't make it to the end
+1 star since it had werewolves. Because werewolves.
+0.5 stars for having sentences with subjects, verbs, and direct objects, and a minimum of typos.
-0.5 star for either ignoring the need for lube or using soap as lube. Ow. Just ow.

2 stars it is! Oh, and add one eyeroll for pretty much setting up the next book and telegraphing the plot for it in a single paragraph. I will not be pursuing the rest of this series.
 
 
Duncan da Husky


Blood Howl (Sanguis Noctis #1), by Robin Saxon & Alex Kidwell

Gun for hire Jed Walker doesn’t figure it for a difficult job—a simple smash and grab retrieval—except his new client doesn’t want money or goods. He wants shy, gorgeous Redford Reed, a man who turns Jed’s world upside down inside a day. He is in no way prepared to fall hard and fast for his newest assignment.

Redford Reed lives his life locked in his grandmother’s house, haunted by a terrible curse and watching the world pass him by until Jed shows up, sent by a man who will stop at nothing to claim Redford as his own. Teaming up with Jed is Redford’s only chance at survival, but as the violence escalates, so does the tension between them. Even though they each finally have something to live for, now it’s going to take all Jed’s skill and every bit of courage Redford has just to stay alive.

Rating: 4 out of 5

You know those movies where you know going in that you'll really enjoy it as long as you check your brain at the door? I'm thinking action movies, superhero movies, that sort of thing. Big dumb fun. Sure, there's massive plot holes, but damn the movies can be fun!

This is what we have here, in book form.

Normally I'd knock this book on a number of counts: no world-building, little backstory on the main characters, ridiculous motivations by the antagonists, and more. But you know what? The story was so much fun and I enjoyed the characters so much, I will give it a pass.

Jed is pretty much a boisterous, amoral, grade-A asshole. Need someone assassinated, somebody kidnapped, something blown up? He's your guy. This kind of broad character can be entertaining as long as you don't examine them too closely. Redford is a perfect foil for Jed. He's sheltered, naive, and quiet, an element of sweetness that is the perfect antidote to Jed's crassness. The two of them together are an adorable couple. Also, some of the werewolf scenes are flat-out hilarious.

As noted above, don't think about the plot too closely. Just go along for the ride and have a good time! Saxon and Kidwell's writing is enjoyable. The dialogue is snappy and the side characters are for the most part interesting. The big finale is definitely big, and has some intriguing plot twists that make future books in the series quite interesting indeed. I'm definitely continuing to read the series!
 
 
Duncan da Husky


Bayou Dreams (Rougaroux Social Club #1), by Lynn Lorenz

Sheriff Scott Dupree’s got more problems than he can handle. He’s alpha of his small werewolf pack and coming up for re-election as sheriff in a year. On top of this, his mother is casting love spells to find Scott a mate. It’s all Scott can do to keep the town and pack under control, let alone his urges to mate.

Ted Canedo is openly gay, a disgraced ex-cop from New Orleans. His patrol partner was killed on duty and Ted took the blame for taking protection money from the store owner to save his partner’s wife and kids grief. No one knew Ted was in love with his partner, not even his partner. Having him die in Ted’s arms killed something inside Ted too.

When the moon is full and Scott’s momma works her magic, Ted’s erotic dreams and his work as a PI bring him to St. Jerome and sexy, straight Scott. Scott’s stunned to learn his wolf is gay and wants to mate with Ted. Ted refuses to become involved with a straight man, much less a werewolf, terrified to risk his heart again.

Especially if it he has to watch Scott fight to the death for his right to claim Ted as his mate.

Rating: 4 out of 5

I'll start off here with a bit of a rant. Keeping in mind that the target audience for M/M romances is straight women, the views presented in the genre can sometimes be...distorted. One of the common tropes is "gay for you" (or GFY in the fan parlance). This trope is, "I have been straight all of my life but now that I have met this particular man I am madly in love." This gets under my skin because it completely ignores the existence of bisexuality and the fact that sexual orientation is a continuum, not a discrete, binary gay/straight thing. Typically not even a nod is given to the possibility of bisexuality which is annoying at best and outright offensive at worst.

There. Having gotten that off my chest I can get on with this review, which ostensibly does fall under the GFY trope, but it skirts around it neatly. The idea presented here is that a werewolf has a human side and a wolf side. The human may be whatever orientation, but the wolf wants what the wolf wants (male or female), and it's going to get it. This sets up an interesting tension between the characters that was, to be honest, pretty damn hot.

Having gone to school in New Orleans, I'm a sucker for stories set in Louisiana. Werewolf stories in Louisiana? I'm all about that! The characters of Ted and Scott are interesting and their angst at the undeniable draw between them makes for a good story. The rural countryside and swamps provide atmosphere for a fun, fast-paced story.

Unfortunately, in places things didn't flow quite as smoothly as they could have. The introduction of some characters that are clearly present for future books in the series is a little clunky. Also, I generally give wide leeway for how sex scenes are written. Everyone has something that turns their crank, even if it doesn't do much for me. Even so, the sex scenes didn't always quite read as well as I would have liked. This may be just a personal thing, though.

I liked this book a lot and have already bought the next one in the series!
 
 
Duncan da Husky


A proposal turned political…
Detective Oliver Worth doesn’t always think things through. When he proposed to Connor Pierce in front of all the packs of Logan’s Court, he thought he was being romantic. It was a grand gesture to show Connor he meant it—that they were Fated, that Oliver wanted to spend the rest of his life with Connor. He didn’t think he was proposing a bond that would unify the Courts of Logan and Nimueh, forever solidifying peace between the two kingdoms. If he had, maybe he would have expected the fallout.

Marked a murderer…
When Oliver and Connor’s bonding ceremony is interrupted by news of a murder—with Connor the prime suspect—Oliver and Connor are forced to disappear into hiding in Maeve’s Court. With a dwindling list of allies, they must race to solve the murder and clear Connor’s name. But with every passing moment, the political landscape of the Three Courts shifts toward destabilization and war, with Connor and Oliver at the centre of it all. As the evidence mounts against Connor, and the Courts prepare for all-out war, the case gets more convoluted. Is Connor being framed for murder? Is the murder only one part of a much larger plan? And with Connor presumed guilty across the Three Courts, how far does the conspiracy stretch?

A grasp for power…
The road ahead is more treacherous than Oliver ever imagined. As he pushes to find answers and save his lover, Oliver must hold desperately to the belief that he and Connor really are meant to be. Can they work fast enough to find the real killer and save their Courts from all-out war? Or will their Fated love be Fated to die?

Worth the Wait (Worth #3), by Lyra Evans

Rating: 5 out of 5

This is a great way to cap an extremely enjoyable series! Having established the characters and the setting well in previous book, Evans is free to dive deeply into the characters and the world of the Three Courts. The political machinations take center stage here, as does a pretty clever mystery.

We (finally!) learn both Oliver and Connor's family histories, and that plays a big part in the story. The heat and passion between these two is there as always, though the on-page hotness is toned down from previous books. The fast-paced story more than makes up for this though as our heroes traverse one end of the Three Courts to the other seeking to clear their names.

As always, the side characters shine here, from the stalwart Donna, Connor's second in command, to the wild and fearless reporter Rory. The small side-plot involving border guard Brook was sweet and sad, and not something I had noticed in previous books.

I enjoyed this book so much. I'm sad to leave Oliver and Connor but the ending of their story is so perfect I have no complaints whatsoever!

(Side note: That cover...ugh. I mean, at least they're consistently bad throughout the series, so I guess there's that.)

 
 
 
Duncan da Husky

Detective Oliver Worth is still new to the whole 'relationship' thing. He spends every moment of his free time in Logan's Court with Connor, then slips over the border to Nimueh's Court to get back before dawn. It's exhausting, but it works. After all, Oliver's still closeted, and the Nimueh's Court Police Department is hardly the most welcoming of places.

Connor Pierce, on the other hand, feels differently. When he asks Oliver to begin a public courting tradition, Oliver panics and runs back to Nimueh's Court to think things through. The problem is someone has already made the decision for him. Now he's the butt of every officer's joke, and his Captain must disclose his relationship to the Commissioner. Oliver's sure his life can't get any more messed up.

But when a call comes in asking Oliver to consult on a murder back in Logan's Court, Oliver is forced to accept the reality that things have only started to fall apart. With Connor mourning and desperate to find the killer, Oliver barely has a chance to deal with his true feelings about going public. Worse, the case has virtually no evidence and no leads. Having no options and the threat of more deaths around the corner, Oliver gives in and calls for a Special Investigator to help. Only the Investigator they send is the last person Oliver wants.

Now Oliver isn't just dealing with a dangerous murderer, he's facing a past he'd long-since buried and the slow crumble of his first real relationship in years. Can Oliver weather the storm of his fears and unresolved feelings to move forward and give Connor what he needs? Or will the past destroy every possibility of Oliver and Connor's future?

Rating: 5 out of 5

Having dispensed with the majority of the character introductions in the first book of the series (Worth a Shot), this book has time to tell a great story with a tricky mystery as well. Oliver's mixed emotions toward relationships make sense in the context of his past, which we learn more about here. It's painful to see his world blow up in his face, though I could wish more time would be spent on the repercussions of this.

Instead, it's back over to Logan's Court, submerged in a werewolf culture that Oliver knows little about and struggles to learn on the fly. The tension of the mystery ramps up throughout the book, and in the meantime Connor and Oliver try to sort out where they stand. A big hazard in a story like this is that one part of the story or the other can take over the book. Here, the mystery and relationship development are given a proper amount of weight, as is the interaction between them. As with the first book, I could wish to know more about Connor's past - maybe this will be addressed in the third and final book, Worth the Wait.

I really enjoy Evans' minor characters here. The inscrutable Donna, the irritating-yet-alluring Sky, and even the border guards are fun and interesting. This helps create a more complex world that draws the reader in. And as before, the intimate times between Oliver and Connor are incredibly sexy. The settings are a bit offbeat, but that definitely kept this reader's interest.

(And again...ugh, that cover. It still has no relation to how I picture the characters, but whatever...)

 
 
Duncan da Husky

Sidecar, by Amy Lane, performed by Chris Patton (9 hours, 32 minutes)

Ratings: Book - 5 out of 5; Audio performance: 5 out of 5

The book: This may be one of my favorite books by Amy Lane ever. It is sweet, thoughtful, and sad at times. I teared up in places even on the second time through! There's not much suspense or even a lot of action, but there doesn't need to be. This is a simple story of two men who love each other very much carving out a place for themselves in the world over a span of twenty-five years. The love and affection between these Casey and Joe is a joy to read, and seeing them build a life together was wonderful.

The story is told in a series of extended vignettes, hopping through the years. One of the things that I frequently mention in my reviews is the importance of knowing a character and understanding their motivations. Sidecar is my yardstick by which other books are measured. As the point of view alternates between Joe and Casey the reader sees exactly where each one is coming from and it makes them both tremendously sympathetic.

One of my favorite things about Lane as a writer is her knack for dialogue. She has a flair for the rhythms of a conversation, and you can look at the dialogue and say, "Yeah, this is pretty much the way people talk." They're not always witty or sparkling, but they can be snarky and tender when warranted.

It's no huge giveaway that the book ends happily, although the road there is filled with twists, turns, and detours. Still, it's the kind of book that when you read the last word you put the book down and sigh happily. I highly, highly recommend it!

The performance: I don't listen to many audiobooks due to time available, but I figured I'd give this a shot and listen while walking the dogs or working out at the gym. I'm so glad I did! Even though I first read the book only six months ago, listening to Chris Patton's performance really added to the experience. Patton has done voiceover work for an astonishing number of anime series, and many audiobooks as well. I know that I would definitely seek his work out in the future!

The concern I frequently have with audiobooks is following the conversation and figuring who is speaking when. Patton gives each character a specific voice, a unique pitch and cadence, which both fits them well and makes them readily identifiable. Unlike some audiobooks I've heard, Patton performs the dialogue, bringing additional meaning and nuance to the conversations. It greatly enriches an already excellent book.

Oh, and if you ever thought that listening to a steamy sex scene in an audiobook would be awkward...no, no it is not. *fans self*
 
 
Duncan da Husky


Worth a Shot (Worth #1) by Lyra Evans

Detective Oliver Worth has everything he needs-the job he always wanted and a knack for picking one-night stands. When a high-born Witch is found murdered on the steps of Nimueh's Court, Oliver is given the case of the century-because no one else will touch it. Not when it looks like the murder was committed by a Werewolf.

The Treaty between the Courts of Nimueh and Logan has stood for over a hundred years, and peace was hard-won. If a Werewolf is responsible, the murder counts as an act of war and would plunge both kingdoms into chaos. Something Oliver's Captain is keen to point out.

Treading lightly, Oliver has no choice but to venture alone into Logan's Court to investigate. The trail of clues leads right to Connor Pierce, a newly minted Alpha of Logan's kin. Connor is gorgeous and captivating and absolutely a suspect. Determined to do his job and catch the killer, Oliver finds he's now got more to worry about than an inter-kingdom war. He tries to ignore his growing desire, but Connor keeps drawing him in. Everything about Connor is intoxicating, and Oliver isn't sure how long he can fight off temptation...

Now there's not just the peace of two kingdoms on the line-there's also his heart.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Now, I appreciate hot, steamy scenes in my reading as much as the next gay guy, but I prefer for a book to be plot- or character-driven, and the intimate stuff is a nice garnish. This book though...wow. The overall plot is OK, and the characters are interesting. But the level of heat throughout most of this book is incredible, and not even particularly explicit.

Oliver is quite a complex character - open about his sexuality in the off hours, but deeply closeted in a professional setting. Although we don't get a whole lot of backstory on any of the characters in this book (maybe in the sequels?) we learn enough about Oliver to understand what makes him tick. Connor is more of a cipher, but that is by design. We learn about the werewolf society (Logan's Court) bit by bit as Oliver does. One thing that is very clear - sex and sensuality are very much integral to the wolves and their interactions.

The world-building is nicely done here as well. This is a society where magic exists and is a fact of life. Dirty clothes are taken care of by laundry wards, and cocktails are served with anti-intoxication potions mixed in. At the same time, there are cars, computers, and cell phones. The setting is built organically - not a whole lot of exposition going on. This doesn't always work for me, but it definitely fit in here. Also, although this is ostensibly a shifter story, very little of this plays into the plot except to define the different societies (and associated prejudices).

A large portion of the book is taken up by Oliver needing to pose as Connor's consort to interview a key witness. As a plot device it's a little flimsy, but the attraction, temptation, and intimate pas-de-deux between Connor and Oliver is hotter than hell and kept my attention throughout! The mystery is resolved nicely and while the ending is a bit unexpected (in a good way) it sets the stage for future stories, although this book is self-contained.

I liked this one a lot. Recommended!

(Side note: Ugh, that cover. I know I’m not the target demographic but that’s over the top. The way these guys are described, neither of them works out or does anything that would be necessary to maintain ridiculous chiseled abs like that. Ah well...)
 
 
Duncan da Husky
03 November 2016 @ 02:35 pm


Naked Tails, by Eden Winters

Seth McDaniel wasn't raised among a shifter passel and has no idea what it's like to turn furry once a month. An orphan, torn from his father's family at an early age, he scarcely remembers Great-aunt Irene. Now her passing brings him back to Possum Kingdom, Georgia, to take up a legacy he doesn't understand and reconnect with a friend he's never forgotten.

As Irene's second-in-command, Dustin Livingston has two choices: assume control of the passel or select another replacement. Unfortunately, the other candidates are either heartless or clueless. Dustin's best hope to dodge the responsibility is to deliver a crash course in leadership to his childhood pal Seth, a man he hasn't seen in twenty years. However, while Dustin's mind is set on his task, his heart is set on his old friend.

Seth's quest for answers yields more questions instead. What's with the tiny gray hairs littering his aunt's house? Why do the townsfolk call each other "Jack" and "Jill"? Do Dustin's attentions come with ulterior motives? And why is Seth suddenly craving crickets?

Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a fun, goofy read that was way better than I expected it to be! Offbeat shifter books don't usually do it for me, but this looked interesting, plus it takes place not too far from where I grew up so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Eden Winters does a nice job evoking the area and the people of North Georgia where "Possum Kingdom" (not too far from the real town of Clayton) exists. Seth has been away in the city environment of Chicago for so long he's forgotten his country roots (the fact that I live near Chicago now is pure coincidence but probably added to my affinity for the book!). Going back to the red clay of his youth leaves him absolutely out of his element, but he learns to adapt. I liked Seth and really sympathized with his confusion and reluctance to stay in Possum Kingdom. Dustin was a little more difficult to read and I would have liked to see more of him in the story, but it makes sense why he was not. Monica, Dustin's second in command, was a hoot! I've met Southern women like her and I can definitely say there are plenty of grounds in reality for her character.

The plot to the book isn't anything particularly special. Stranger comes in and must assume command, learn about his heritage and the local society, and train to fight like a possum (as one does). The latter part of the story seemed a bit rushed after the relaxed, enjoyable setup, and that's the main reason I rate this a 4 out of 5. I would have liked to see things drawn out a bit more and have more time to explore Seth and Dustin's time together, reconnecting from their youth.

I quite enjoyed Naked Tails, and look forward to exploring more of Winters' back catalog!

 
 
Duncan da Husky

Special Agent John Flynn is everything Jerry Parker is not: dangerously handsome, coolly charismatic, and respected by his peers. Special Agent Parker is dedicated and meticulous, but his abrasive personality has given him a reputation for being difficult. When new information on a cold case appears, Parker is assigned to work with Flynn, and the sparks fly as their investigative styles clash. Contact with a strange artifact changes everything when it bestows unusual and unpredictable powers on Flynn... and the two men must learn to trust each other before a killer strikes again.

Rating: 4 out of 5

When I started into this I didn't realize that it's short enough to almost be a novella. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it does explain some of the issues I had with the story. I could wish for more backstory on Flynn, and the "mystery" was rather perfunctory, making it clear that the purpose of this book was to establish the characters first and foremost.

The book is a fast, fun read though. The introduction of The Artifact gives an interesting spin to the usual cops-who-don't-get-along-become-friends (or more) trope. Flynn getting used to managing his newfound skills does give some interesting insights into his personality. Parker is genuinely likeable, and the ease with which he provides help for Flynn makes sense given his personality is established as someone who is supportive in all of his roles. Points also for the narrative gymnastics in the latter part of the story, drawing out the tension and leaving the reader guessing.

I see that the sequel to this book (Walk a Mile) is double the length in pages, which is a good sign. I will definitely be picking that up!
 
 
 
Duncan da Husky
27 October 2016 @ 01:23 pm

I’m starting a new m/m romance/shifter book which shall go unnamed for now. I’m withholding judgment (with difficulty) since I’m less than 20% in, but here are my reactions so far…

New student transfers to Eastern Washington University from Austin, TX.
OK, that sets it up. Pretty rural place that really exists outside of Spokane, WA.

Ready for the “West Coast” mindset
Um, another name for eastern Washington state is “Idaho”. Very, very different from West Coast.

Guy is revealed to be fleeing an abusive relationship, has cutting scars, and unexplained scars on his neck
OK, that’s a whole lotta baggage

Guy’s friend talks about the huge LGBT population on campus
Um, hello? What part of “Idaho” did you not hear?

Friend takes guy to a big club that is out in the middle of the woods, far away from anything
Well, that’s not suspicious at all

The club is a gay BDSM club, and all of the students on campus fight to get in there every weekend
wat

The club is having a competition to find the Alpha’s Pet, and guy is unwittingly entered into the competition
You know what’s awesome right after an abusive relationship? Getting shoved unwillingly into a situation where you suddenly learn all about dominance and submission. What could possibly go wrong?

And that’s where I am now. There will be werewolves, of course, because of the Huge Secret References (some of you might call it “foreshadowing” which is technically true, although one does not typically foreshadow with the subtlety of the Vegas Strip). The club is called “The Lodge”, the shadowy owners are a group called “The Wolves” led by “The Alpha”. Ayup.

I’ll keep reading because at this point my disbelief is suspended so high it may need oxygen. Even if it doesn’t get better at least it’s unintentionally amusing.

 
 
Duncan da Husky


Wolf, in League (Wolf, Book 3), by A.F. Henley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wolf, in League follows the progression of Wolf, WY (a local setting), then Wolf, en Garde (a national setting), by expanding the story of wolves, vampires, and more to world-wide in scope, and it does it in grand style.

I will say up-front that vampires simply don’t interest me. Werewolves, heck yeah – vampires, zombies, and other undead things, not so much. Setting aside that preference, though, the relationship between Matthew and Gavin is wonderful to watch develop. I found Matthew extremely relatable, although it didn’t hurt that the story is told mostly from his point of view. Even so, he’s a complex, intelligent, and thoughtful  character.

Gavin is a bit harder to read (intentionally so), and if I have any complaint it would be that it would be nice to know more of his history. I could see how that could slow the overall story down, though. Much of his behavior is attributable to his affliction, but as the story plays out we find there is much more to it than that.

I liked that Matthew takes time to come to grips with his feelings towards Gavin. He’s forced into a difficult situation and being pulled in multiple directions. The rush of feelings when the dam breaks, though, is gratifying. I can’t say that I found Matthew and Gavin as sympathetic a couple as Vaughn and Randy or Lyle and Rafe, but that could be due to the whole vampire thing.

One thing I loved about this book is that the story moves along at a steady clip. Starting within the familiar setting we left at the end of en Garde, step by step we learn that the world is a much scarier place than originally thought. There are conspiracies on multiple fronts and it is up to the characters, new and old favorites, to uncover them. This all builds to a conclusion that creates a whole new setting for future books – books that I definitely look forward to reading!

Side note: huge props for dropping “Not all vampires” into the dialogue, too (vampsplaining?). This cracked me up so much!

 
 
Duncan da Husky
26 October 2016 @ 07:46 am

A. F. Henley offers an interesting, if grisly take on werewolves in the Wolf series. The transformation from human to werewolf and back isn’t neat and clean, shimmering from one form to another effortlessly. No, it involves breaking bones and chunks of flesh falling off, blood and snot everywhere. It can be stomach-churning for anyone watching. Going out somewhere where you know you are going to change requires bringing along a plastic tarp.

It’s not particularly sexy, but it introduces an icky but believable element into an well-established idea.
 
 
Duncan da Husky

Wolf, en Garde (Wolf #2) by A.F. Henley (with fabulous cover design by Drawboy)

Three years ago Lyle made a mistake that cost him his freedom, and almost his life. Now, sick to death of watching his father love the man that Lyle wanted, Lyle accepts an offer to leave Wolf, WY behind and see what life in Washington, D.C. can do for him instead.

When Lyle comes across a seductive, attractive stranger with a fascinating yet terrifying view of humanity, he’s more than intrigued. It doesn’t take Lyle long to realize that Arius isn’t just playing games, though, and when Lyle runs across a secret in Arius’ lair he has no choice but to flee, even knowing his actions will enrage Arius.

On the run, with only a psychic’s second sight and his own instinct to help him, Lyle has nowhere to go but home. The only question is, will they have him when he shows up.


Oh my gosh, this book. I love it when an author only gets better through a series, and these books are an excellent example of this. My review of the first book in the series, Wolf, WY, was that it was a 4 out of 5, a pretty good book indeed. This one? 5 out of 5, and with good reason. All the issues and concerns that I had by the end of the first book were addressed to my satisfaction in the first few chapters of this one, making Wolf that much more of a satisfying story.

Wolf, en Garde takes up the story of Lyle, a werewolf fighting his way through a difficult time in his life. As he goes off to the big city he finds excitement and some very nasty surprises. I love the fact that although Lyle goes from an initially annoying and petulant character to a sympathetic one by the end of the book, you can always see where he is coming from and what is motivating him.

The plot twists here are great fun, with shifting alliances and shadowy hints of people knowing more than they should. Even better, Henley takes the cozy setting of Wolf, Wyoming from the first book and expands it out with some excellent world building, showing where werewolves (and other beings) fit in modern society and suggesting even greater manipulating forces that the characters still don’t know about. I see it as a narrative tool akin to the blind men and the elephant. As each new piece of information presents itself you are forced to reformulate your view of the world. The slow reveal makes for a great read, though. After a slow buildup, the last part of the book is a hell of a ride!

This book obviously leads directly into the next in the series, Wolf, in League. I will be starting in on that immediately! I definitely recommend the whole series.
 
 
Duncan da Husky
20 October 2016 @ 09:34 am


Wolf, WY, by A.F. Henley

There's nothing like a fresh start, and for Randy, still nursing wounds left by a cheating ex and harboring a deep mistrust for all things corporate, Wolf, Wyoming seems like the perfect place to start over. Secluded, quiet, and self-sufficient, Wolf is bound to not only inspire, but to bring Randy the peace he needs. The view's not bad, either.

Vaughn O'Connell and his family are Randy's only neighbors for miles, and while Randy knows it's somewhat unlikely that a man with three kids is gay, it doesn't hurt to look. When a misunderstanding brings Randy face to face with both Vaughn and his eighteen year old son, Lyle, Randy's not sure what to feel about either of them.

But things are not what they appear in Wolf, and the closer Randy gets, the stranger the O'Connell family seems...
Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a really enjoyable book. The setup was good, and I enjoyed the characters. Randy is a funny, snarky guy who is prone to wisecrack at wholly inappropriate times (a man after my own heart!). Vaughn is a crusty local, grumpy but endearing in the end. The setting is lovely too - the descriptions of the area led me to Google Maps and using Street View to get a good look at the surrounding area. Oddly enough this actually allowed me to better appreciate the story.

The expected conflict between the normal and paranormal worlds is present, but Henley also adds an interesting interpersonal additional conflict that is a unique spin in what I have seen in the genre. This helps to elevates what might have been a pretty standard story into something memorable.

Unfortunately, at times the prose could be somewhat overly-florid. This was forgivable, but there were some other flaws that jumped out as well, including a scene that very obviously exists primarily to set up the rest of the series. Also, it would have been nice to know more of Vaughn's backstory. Despite these things, though, I found this to be a quick, enjoyable, and engaging read.
 
 
 
Duncan da Husky


Into This River I Drown, by T.J. Klune

At once an exploration of grief and faith, Into This River I Drown is one man’s journey into the secrets of his father and discovering the strength to believe in the impossible.

Five years ago, Benji Green lost his beloved father, Big Eddie, who drowned when his truck crashed into a river. All called it an accident, but Benji thought it more. However, even years later, he is buried deep in his grief, throwing himself into taking over Big Eddie’s convenience store in the small town of Roseland, Oregon. Surrounded by his mother and three aunts, he lives day by day, struggling to keep his head above water.

But Roseland is no ordinary place.

With ever-increasing dreams of his father’s death and waking visions of feathers on the surface of a river, Benji’s definition of reality is starting to bend. He thinks himself haunted, but whether by ghosts or memories, he can no longer tell. It’s not until the impossible happens and a man falls from the sky and leaves the burning imprint of wings on the ground that he begins to understand that the world around him is more mysterious than he could have possibly imagined. It’s also more dangerous, as forces beyond anyone’s control are descending on Roseland, revealing long hidden truths about friends, family, and the man named Calliel who Benji is finding he can no longer live without.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Staggering. What T.J. Klune does with this book is simply staggering and damn near overwhelming.

The atmosphere and emotions in Into This River... are just as much central characters as Benji and Cal. By the end of the book, I could imagine standing at Mile Marker 77 and knowing what it looks like, how it feels. The grief, pain, hope and love experienced here damn near leave me speechless. As always, I am amazed at the depth of feeling that T.J. Klune can evoke with his writing.

This is a weighty book, and definitely not an easy read (at least it wasn’t for me). I had to take a break and read something a bit lighter every now and then! That said, it was extremely rewarding. I would urge any reader to stick it out through the halfway mark, because the latter half of the book is one hell of a ride.

I am glad that I have read other books by Klune before reading this one. Many of the themes (and indeed phrasing) featured in Wolfsong are repeated here, though this does not detract in the least - rather, I feel it allows a glimpse into the author’s thinking.

I highly, highly recommend this book. Simply incredible.

Side note: Damn, that book cover design. It's perfect, and captures the story well.
 
 
Duncan da Husky

Trust the Focus (In Focus #1), by Megan Erickson

With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready
for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon.

As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry.

But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion.

Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sometimes you just want to feel good.

I wouldn’t say this is a particularly complex story, but even so I enjoyed it. Justin and Landry are wonderful characters. I really got a good feeling for Justin, how he felt, and how he dealt with his conflicts. I was a little less empathetic with Landry but I still understood where he was coming from and why he responded the way he did.

Megan Erickson’s writing is clear and engaging, though the book has a couple of glaring typos (“seeing the sites” instead of “seeing the sights”, pasta with “muscles” instead of “mussels”). These are just minor complaints, though. I’d recommend this book to anyone who needs a light, enjoyable read with a couple of guys who are easy to like.

Originally posted to my blog on 20 September 2016.
 
 
Duncan da Husky
Protector of the Alpha, by Parker WIlliams

Adopted at an early age by a wealthy family, Jake Davis has always seemed to have an easy life. Even in college he was blessed with good grades and an apparently clear path to a pro football career. Good thing his best friend keeps hanging around to keep his head from getting too swollen.

Zakiya Incekara has always been…odd. Being fluent in six languages and having a flair for international cooking should open the world to him, but those skills leave him isolated. 

When Jake sees Zak for the first time, with water beading down his slender form, something inside him shifts, and it hungers for Zak. To have him. To claim him. And Jake knows that whatever it is, it won’t be denied. 

When they are approached by a man who claims knowledge of a secret past they share,Jake and Zak are thrust into a world they would never have believed existed. The forests of Alaska might seem an odd place to find your destiny, but these men will meet the challenges head on, as they learn that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to be Protector of the Alpha.

Rating: 2 out of 5

No. Just no.

It says a lot when the blurb for a book reveals more about a character than you ever learn in the book. This was the case for Zak/Zakiya. It was painful to get through the first 60% of the book. After that I started skimming. I don’t feel like I missed anything.

Ugh, where to begin. Paper-thin characters, cookie-cutter plot, poor pacing…

Adult-type stuff behind the cutCollapse )

Really. Really? Really. It doesn’t improve much from there.

The buildup to the finale was tedious, and when they meet the big-baddies? Meh.

I can’t say that I would recommend this book at all.

Originally posted to my blog on 04 October 2016.
 
 
Duncan da Husky
16 October 2016 @ 10:44 am
Hexmaker, by Jordan Hawk
A straight-laced policeman. A lighthearted thief. A murdered millionaire.

Fox shifter Malachi steals for one of the biggest crime rings in New York City. But when he witnesses the murder of a millionaire, the only person who can keep him safe is Dr. Owen Yates, forensic hexman for the Metropolitan Witch Police—and Malachi’s witch.

Owen is horrified to discover his familiar is an uneducated thief. Even worse, Malachi threatens to unleash Owen’s deepest desires…desires Owen can’t act upon, as he’s destined for an arranged marriage to secure the Yates family fortune

Their agreement: Malachi will be Owen’s lover as well as his partner, until the day of the wedding. But as their hunt for the murderer carries them from teeming slums to Fifth Avenue mansions, Owens begins to realize Malachi commands his heart as well as his body.

With dark forces drawing ever closer around them, Owen must decide whether to bow to the demands of duty, or to risk everything for the man he loves.
Rating: 5 out of 5!

This book gave me all sorts of warm fuzzies, and not just of the foxy variety!

Jordan Hawk created a fascinating world in Hexbreaker, and this book capitalizes on that. I feel like all of the things that left me feeling so-so about the first book have been fixed here, and it makes Hexmaker an outstanding story.

Malachi is a fascinating character, and here we get a full picture of who he is and what his motivations are. Likewise we understand where Owen is coming from, and why he feels bound to make the decisions that he does. In both cases that allows the reader a degree of empathy that really helps make the story resonate. An important motivating factor here is class status, the haves and the have-nots, and the clashes between the two worlds.

One thing that I thought really made the story stand out was the book's willingness to touch on themes other than the usual "guy meets guy then they jump into the sack." Themes of dominance and submission and transsexuality are touched on but do not completely drive the story; they are handled intelligently and in a matter-of-fact manner that I found refreshing. Not to say that the fun in the sack wasn't steamy as hell, because daaaayum! This was the perfect balance of plot and sexytime for my liking, though.

If I have any complaint about this book it's that once the big reveals happen it gets a little tricky for the reader to connect all the dots, but it wasn't as ridiculously convoluted as some that I've read. This in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story. I happily recommend this book to all!
 
 
Duncan da Husky

Unacceptable Risk, by Kaje Harper (Hidden Wolves, Book 1)

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Simon Conley was born a werewolf, making him one of a tiny minority in a sea of vanilla humans. The safety of the pack lies in absolute secrecy, sometimes violently enforced. In a species where pack-members are born and not made, being gay is considered a perversion. So when Simon falls in love with a human man, he's twice damned. Even his Alpha's grudging tolerance may not be enough to shield him from the hatred of the other top wolves. Then his lover Paul stumbles across pack secrets Simon was sworn to keep, and if the pack finds out, they may both end up dead.

This book is a reminder that even if you can predict how everything will play out, if the writing is good enough you can still really enjoy the story. This is a story of relationship and pack politics. While it is successful on both fronts, the former is far more enjoyable than the latter. The courtship between Simon and Paul is so sweet, and the push and pull between attraction, fear, and doubt makes for a fascinating dynamic. Paul's concerns and hesitation especially struck a chord for me. Harper has done a great job in building these characters and their personalities, and indeed constructing a believable niche for werewolves in modern society as well. (Side note: props for either having good knowledge of the day-to-day life and concerns of a veterinarian or doing some really excellent research!)

The pack politics part was the weaker part of the story for me. I was mildly annoyed at the HUGE cast of background characters, all with single short first names that were easy to get confused. This was a minor nitpick since really there are only a few principals that you need to remember. I especially liked Aaron and I look forward to reading more about him later in this series.

As for predictability, about two-thirds through the book I guessed how the critical issues would be resolved. While I was mostly right, there were just enough twists in there to keep things interesting. This was a very entertaining and extremely sexy read! No shyness here, but given the relationship concerns addressed even the intimate moments helped further the plot.

On a side note, I would urge any reader to download the free short story, Unsettled Interlude, that immediately follows the action in the book. It really is more of an epilogue, and actually speaks to a lot of the unresolved concerns I had at the end of the book. That epilogue makes the whole story better. Overall, I really liked this book and will continue to read through the series!
 
 
 
Duncan da Husky
30 August 2016 @ 09:48 am

Skin, by Jesse Daro

Rating: 4 out of 5

Unbeknownst to most of human kind, Chimera Enterprises has resurrected a shape-shifting alien race that sank with the lost continent of Lemuria eons ago: the werekin, beings born with both a human and an animal skin, able to shift between the two at will. Seventeen-year-old Seth Michael Sullivan, a werejaguar, has grown up in the Underground, hiding from the hunters that capture and enslave werekin for Chimera Enterprises. After witnessing the murder of his guardian Naomi, Seth arrives in Fairfax, Indiana, on a snowy New Year’s Eve, a rare breed on the run. As he reconnects with the mother and sister who know nothing of his true identity, Seth discovers he is a key piece in Chimera’s plot to conquer humankind by securing the power of the werekin Totems - and uncovers a secret in his own past that could decide the fate of his kindred.

Top-secret scientific experiments, ancient alien technology, a powerful shadow organization inside the United States military - Seth soon finds himself at the center of a brewing interspecies war. Can he trust his own flesh and blood? Will he choose to stand with humankind or with his werekin kindred - especially when the best part of being human may be Marshall Townsend, the boy next door?


What an unexpected treat!

From past experiences, I’m a little gun-shy about free, self-published books. Usually they are in need of heavy editing and have a myriad of problems with characters, plot, and setting. I’m pleased to say that (almost) none of that is present in this book, and what little there is does not get in the way of an exciting read.

Daro has done a fine job of world-building here. The ramifications of historical actions are played out in a logical manner, and this makes the world very believable. My only complaint here is that some of the mythical backstory is a little mushy and unclear, but other than that I really enjoyed the setup.

The characters here are believable, and there are quite a few! I admit I sometimes got a little lost toward the end trying to make sense of the cast. I really liked Seth, the main character, a werejaguar. The author falls a bit into the trope of one’s animal influencing the human’s actions and behaviors, but that’s a minor quibble. As a teenager Seth is a smart-aleck know-it-all, though as the book progresses he starts to get his head in order and this makes him a much more sympathetic character. Marshall, his love interest, is a little one-dimensional but we get a pretty clear idea of what his motivations may be. The rest of the cast is a fun collection of characters, and the shifting allegiances (and sudden reveals) definitely keep the reader guessing.

The plotting here is more than a little convoluted. I suspect a professional editor might suggest reducing the twists and turns just a bit, but it is a fun ride that was anything but predictable. The mix of mundane high-school life and high-stakes life-or-death action can be a little jarring at times, though.

I think that the first chapter is worthy of mention. It’s tough to bring a reader into a story from the very first words, and even tougher to throw them right into the middle of the action. The first chapter of this book is one of the best at this that I have seen and is worthy of any professionally-written novel.

Finally, I came by this book in a list of gay romances (and a recommended book at that). While it has gay characters and a budding romance, the interactions on that front are strictly G-rated. I would say that this is a great urban fantasy that happens to have gay characters. (Oddly, I’ve also seen it classified as Young Adult - as near as I can tell YA in this context is “Yeah, they’re gay, but they don’t have sex.” This seems weirdly different from the mainstream definition of YA, but there ya go.)

Skin is the first of The Ark Trilogy (Skin, Blood, Bones), all of which are downloadable for free from Goodreads. I look forward to reading the rest of the books!
 
 
Duncan da Husky
How To Be a Normal Person, by T.J. Klune

Gustavo Tiberius is not normal. He knows this. Everyone in his small town of Abby, Oregon, knows this. He reads encyclopedias every night before bed. He has a pet ferret called Harry S. Truman. He owns a video rental store that no one goes to. His closest friends are a lady named Lottie with drag queen hair and a trio of elderly Vespa riders known as the We Three Queens.

Gus is not normal. And he's fine with that. All he wants is to be left alone.

Until Casey, an asexual stoner hipster and the newest employee at Lottie’s Lattes, enters his life. For some reason, Casey thinks Gus is the greatest thing ever. And maybe Gus is starting to think the same thing about Casey, even if Casey is obsessive about Instagramming his food.

But Gus isn’t normal and Casey deserves someone who can be. Suddenly wanting to be that someone, Gus steps out of his comfort zone and plans to become the most normal person ever.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?


I loved this book so much. Gus and Casey are not particularly likable characters at the beginning of the book, but as the story progresses and we learn more about them and what makes them tick, they become utterly endearing.

This is a character-driven story, which is to say not much happens and yet you don't need tremendous, earth-shaking events to tell a good story. This is a cozy tale of a guy who isn't as curmudgeonly as he thinks he is learning how to love someone, although in the most hysterical way possible.

Having read Klune's The Lightning-Struck Heart, I am well aware of (and greatly appreciate) his amusing, fourth-wall-breaking humor. This, coupled with Gus' sarcastic commentary, had me giggling most of the way through this book. Even so, I became emotionally invested in Gus and Casey, and even cried a few times as they worked through their relationship.

Casey is asexual, and I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate that TJ stays true to this. Asexuality is something that I am only learning more about now, but as a gay man I think it would be incredibly hypocritical of me to even begin to question let alone define other's sexual identities. This is a well-written depiction (as far as I know) and helped me appreciate the concept more as well.

So yes, a book that is nominally within the m/m romance genre where no one is getting down and dirty, and Tab A isn't getting inserted in Slot B? Yes, it CAN happen, and the book suffers not one whit for the lack. When Gus works himself up to going in for a hug with Casey without even asking? That was utterly adorable and made the book for me.

This is definitely one of my favorites by TJ so far!
 
 
Duncan da Husky
24 August 2016 @ 11:23 am

Axel’s Pup, by Kim Dare

Rating: 4.0 out of 5



As the landlord of The Dragon’s Lair and leader of The Black Dragons Motorcycle Club, Axel Carmichael has seen it all and done it all. He’s a respected and experienced dom. Nothing shocks him any more, and nobody catches him off guard.

When Bayden rides up to The Dragon’s Lair on a bike worth more than most men earn in a year, and immediately demonstrates that he has far more attitude than sense, it’s easy for Axel to write him off as a silly little rich boy who’s about to get himself killed.

But, there’s more to Bayden than meets the eye. He’s no silly little boy, rich or otherwise, and werewolves aren’t easy to kill.


Part of the trick to reviewing anything is to recognize when something is good even if you didn't necessarily enjoy it. This book was a bit of a slow read for me because it didn't engage me like many others do. That is most likely due to the main subject, the dom/sub relationship. That, and BDSM in general, are not to my taste at all, so this was definitely a read that was far afield for me. We all have our different interests, though. I try to live by "Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK."

This concern aside, Kim Dare has created a fascinating world with this book, one that I would love to see more of. This is a world where werewolves and humans live side by side, yet due to an event sometime in the past wolves have been relegated to second-class citizen status. Anti-pack laws mean that wolves are not allowed to congregate or have distinct last names. They are regarded by humans as dirty and lazy, and are an oppressed minority, subject to random stop and harassment (or worse) by police. In spite of this, wolves remain a proud and fiercely independent people.

The racial and economic parallels to our reality are inescapable, of course, but that is not the focus of the story. Instead, this setting provides an interesting context for a human dominant, wolf submissive relationship. The narrative point of view switches between the dom (Axel) and the sub (Bayden), providing a balanced viewpoint as the story proceeds.

This is very definitely a character-driven story; there is not much action here. The focus is on the developing relationship between Axel and Bayden. And therein lies the problem - we get a lot of background on Bayden (who I found a fascinating character), but I never felt (until very late in the book) that we understood what motivates Axel, and even after some details are revealed no connection is made between his history and his motivations.

If there is not much in the way of plot development, that void is certainly filled by many, many sex scenes. Mind you, I do love a good, well-written scene, but by the latter third of the book I was starting to skim them because things were getting a bit repetitious, or delving into specific bondage techniques I don't really care about. I can't vouch for the dom/sub mind-sets or mental spaces in which the characters reside. I would be curious to see the opinion of someone more familiar with the BDSM lifestyle.

I can't say I'd pursue other BDSM-based books that Dare has written, but I'd be interested to read other topics from her. The writing is solid, even if the character development may need some work.

 
 
Duncan da Husky
16 August 2016 @ 09:51 am

Soul Seekers by Jake C. Wallace



Nineteen-year-old college student Levi Reed has spent his life with hollow emotions and a darkness so deep that he’s convinced he’s losing his mind. He’d give anything to feel something, anything, real.

When a mysterious stranger appears, Levi is convinced the man is trying to kill him. When he’s near, Levi experiences head-crushing pain and something surprising—real emotions for the first time. Jeb Monroe is arrogant, self-assured, closed-off, and handsome, but he isn’t the harbinger of doom Levi assumed. Jeb’s mission: help Levi find his missing soul.

Levi is pulled into the secret world of Seers and Keepers, those born with the innate ability to manipulate souls and tasked with balancing the negative energy they can produce. Levi learns he possesses a rare gift, and he’s in danger. As Jeb and Levi grow closer, they discover a group of zealots who want to harness Levi’s power to cleanse the world of damaged souls. Everyone Levi cares for is threatened unless he agrees to become their tool of death. But agreeing could spell the destruction of humankind. With no one to trust and nothing as it appears, it’s up to Levi to save them all.


Rating: 3.75 out of 5

This is a really clever read, and I enjoyed it. It provides an interesting viewpoint from someone who is in the middle of a very complex situation and can’t see all of the moving parts - all they can do is keep their head down and push through it. The conceit of souls and Keepers and Seers is an intriguing one, and I would read more of this series if there are any sequels.

So why only 3.75 then? Two big things: the first and most glaring thing is that the theory of manipulation of souls and the consequences thereof is WAY to tangled and confusingly explained. I could never get a clear picture of what the energy issue was between Levi and Jeb. I think I got a clearer picture at the end, but the avalanche of explanations tended to really muddle things by that point.

The other issue is that while I love Levi and Jeb together (HOTNESS!), Jeb was a bit of a cipher for a huge portion of the story, which left his motivations and “insta-love” for Levi puzzling. In the end I get what the author is going for, but in the middle of the story is was just awkward and confusing.

These quibbles aside, I did enjoy the book, and I will happily seek out other of Wallace’s books.

Originally posted 14 August 2016
 
 
Duncan da Husky

Wolves of Black Pine (Wolfkin Saga #1), by S.J. Himes



An ancient civilization long hidden from humanity is on the brink of chaos and war.

Peaceful for thousands of years, the wolfkin clans are mysteriously losing packmates, kidnapped and killed by unknown foes. Among the dead is Luca, youngest grandson of the two most powerful wolves in the Northern Clans, but he is forced into a half-life, hidden in the far northern wilds of Canada and cut off from his kind. Those who raised him have no idea the creature they harbor in their midst, and name him Ghost. He begins to lose himself over the long years, and though he barely recalls his true name, the one wolf he never forgets is Kane.

Heir to the wolfkin clan Black Pine, Kane is charged with hunting down the traitors who them to the humans. Years fly by, and more wolves are dying. He refuses to give up, and he vows to never again fail another of their kind, as he failed young Luca years before. His heart tells him Luca lives, but his mind tells him that it’s foolish hope, his guilt eating him alive.

Fate and magic change the course of their lives, and the two wolves long separated by the years find their paths intertwining, though the reunion does not come without cost…


Rating: 4 out of 5

I really liked this book. I liked the setting, I liked the characters (even if there was a little much of The Ace trope going on), and the world-building was sound. All of the parts of a great book are there.

What’s not there is fitting all the pieces together as well as they could. The pacing is problematic, and it can make the book a bit of a slog at times. The best example that comes to mind is in a climactic action scene, we take a break for a page or two of exposition. There’s also a number of scenes repeated twice, from different character’s points of view. I think it comes down to narrative efficiency - tell the story as cleanly and efficiently as possible. I think with a little more editing this could go from a really good book to great book.

These quibbles aside, I enjoyed this book very much and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Oh, and fair warning for those reading for the hot man-on-man sexytime: it’s there, but only gets started 60% into the book. After that the times sexytime occurs starts to get a little ludicrous, but it doesn’t negatively impact the story.

Originally posted 12 August 2016