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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
Duncan da Husky
16 August 2016 @ 09:46 am

A couple of folks have asked what podcasts I listen to so I thought I would document them somewhere…

  • Ask Me Another - An enjoyable and sometimes silly quiz show, with extra geek cred courtesy of Jonathan Coulton

  • CBC’s Under the Influence - A look into the hows and whys of advertising. There’s a lot of great back stories presented here.

  • Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap - Take two very smart and funny people, add terrible food and a lot of alcohol. Hilarity does indeed ensue.

  • My Dad Wrote a Porno - Exactly what it says it is. A son does a straight-faced reading of the (egregiously terrible) erotica his father has written, with commentary provided by his sometimes-bewildered friends. It’s notable that his father is in on the joke (and even does a Q&A at the end of Season 1!), which removes any concern of mean-spiritedness.

  • NPR’s Planet Money - A collection of pieces run on various shows, this always has a smart, accessible explanation of matters financial

  • NPR’s Politics Podcast - A bit more free-wheeling than the usual on-air discussion. If you’re a political wonk, you’ll enjoy this weekly podcast.

  • Pop Culture Happy Hour - My favorite! A discussion of all things pop culture by a group of hilarious writers and reporters. Bonus for NPR fans - occasional appearances by folks like Audie Cornish and Ari Shapiro that show they’re interesting and engaging people. (Also: Glen Weldon is my Gay Nerd Hero!)

  • Pop Rocket - Comedian Guy Branum hosts this sister-in-spirit to Pop Culture Happy Hour. It’s a little looser, a little more profane, and a lot of fun.

  • Sampler - A meta-podcast? This shouldn’t work, but it succeeds spectacularly. An overview of all kinds of podcasts out there with clips and interviews with the creators. A great way to find podcasts you never would have heard otherwise. Brittany Luse is a fantastic host for this one.

  • Switched on Pop - The combination of pop culture know-how and a little music theory features in this podcast that deconstructs the music out there in a very engaging fashion. Their breakdown of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and tracing it back to Pharrell, Michael Jackson, Gregorian chant, and Handel was amazing.

  • The Memory Palace - Short (<10 minute) episodes on obscure historical facts. Nate DiMeo’s writing and delivery make this podcast absolutely hypnotic.

  • The Nerdist - Chris Hardwick and company interview famous people. Interview podcasts usually don’t do it for me, but they have a way of getting their interviewees to open up and just chat comfortably, not the usual stilted same-old-same-old. Their interview(s) with Jon Favreau was quite revealing, and showed that Jon is a guy I would absolutely have a beer with.

  • Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! - Just listen to it if you haven’t before. You’ll laugh, a lot. Trust me.

  • WBEZ’s Curious City - Amazing investigations into what makes Chicago tick. This is exceptionally well-researched and presented.

Originally posted 02 August 2016
Duncan da Husky
16 August 2016 @ 09:44 am

Wolfsong, by T. J. Klune

Ox was twelve when his daddy taught him a very valuable lesson. He said that Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then he left.

Ox was sixteen when he met the boy on the road, the boy who talked and talked and talked. Ox found out later the boy hadn’t spoken in almost two years before that day, and that the boy belonged to a family who had moved into the house at the end of the lane.

Ox was seventeen when he found out the boy’s secret, and it painted the world around him in colors of red and orange and violet, of Alpha and Beta and Omega.

Ox was twenty-three when murder came to town and tore a hole in his head and heart. The boy chased after the monster with revenge in his bloodred eyes, leaving Ox behind to pick up the pieces.

It’s been three years since that fateful day—and the boy is back. Except now he’s a man, and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.

Wolfsong is a truly remarkable book. Although I found it through the m/m romance genre, it is so much more than that – if anything, I would place it more in the modern fantasy category. It’s an epic story with werewolves, but also the story of an enduring relationship and friendship.

Klune skillfully employs some great world-building here, not only basing some of the ideas on traditional werewolf lore, but also introducing new concepts that explore what it means to be human or wolf, family or pack, and what it means to be Alpha. The ideas are solid and well-thought-out. I am left wanting to know so much more about this world and the Bennett family.

With this setting as a backdrop, the author explores themes of family, belonging, and loss, but most importantly the concept of choice – when you have a choice, when you do not, and what the ramifications of those choices can be. Sometimes we find that we make the wrong choices in life, but once they are made, you have to live with that. These themes are interwoven into the narrative with frequent callbacks to earlier conversations and events that make the book a tightly-woven tapestry.

I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out why this book struck so viscerally, why the climactic scenes had me caught up in the excitement, why the heartfelt moments moved me to tears (multiple times!). The author has a talent for characterization, for one. The main characters are believable and three-dimensional. They can be intelligent and wise, but they can do stupid stuff, too. We start off seeing Ox as a shy, slow boy who feels his father’s scorn, but we learn that he is so much more, and capable of so much more. Watching this evolution engages the reader and you find yourself cheering them on, though also being disappointed when poor choices are made as well.

From a literary construction standpoint, Klune’s writing is fascinating to read. Ox’s story starts with short, simple statements, but as we learn more about who he is and as Ox matures into a man, the writing gets more complex. Repetition of certain phrases throughout the book ties the story together and invite the reader to compare the characters now versus where they were earlier in the story. Best of all is the dialogue, spoken and unspoken. The banter is funny and smart, and the characters speak like you, your family, and friends might. It’s believable and makes the reader a part of the story. The unspoken dialogue (an oxymoron, I suppose) is excellent as well, showing communication through the wolves and the pack, often more emotions than words.

This is hands-down the best book that I have read this year, and in fact in many years. I rate it 5 out of 5. If you like stories of werewolves, of modern fantasy, or of an enduring romance, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Originally posted 03 July 2016

Duncan da Husky
26 June 2016 @ 08:17 am

For those who have asked, and for those who might be interested, here are the links to the recipes I used for this month’s dinner party.

  • Sicilian Eggplant-Pine Nut Caponata

    • Quite delicious, though a bit sweeter than I would have expected. Also, next time I’ll try to remember the extra green pepper that I accidentally put the gazpacho instead!

  • Pretzel Bites

    • The recipe calls for pretzel rods but we cut them up into bite-size pieces. They came out more chewy than crisp – clearly we need to work on technique.

  • Grilled Gazpacho

    • This was a really great recipe. The grilling is a bit of a pain, but really adds to the flavor. Also, if you double the recipe it will take three rounds of processing the a large blender.

  • Baked Eggs

    • I made the recipe as stated, but also made a filling with potato, bacon, and thyme. Make sure to watch these closely and pull them out on the early side because it’s easy to cook the eggs to a hard-set yolk.

  • Fancy Salad

    • Simply delicious. I would absolutely make this again!

  • Asian Crispy Caramel Skewers

    • Yum. Just yum.

  • Grilled Curry Chicken Kebabs

    • Ditto!

  • Chicken Skewers with Penzey’s Ozark Chicken Seasoning

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies with PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter

    • Dan modified this recipe to use a little less chocolate chips, substituting in some additional PB2 chocolate-peanut butter powder.

Duncan da Husky

Axton is a man of secrets. He lives the life of a hermit deep in the forest, and is quite content with his lot. As a werewolf, this gives him the space to roam, game to hunt, and no prying eyes from which he must hide. His world is upset by the arrival of Leander, a big-city lawyer who buys a cabin nearby. Axton find him attractive and is drawn to him, but not only is Leander not gay, he is very definitely human and therefore cannot know of the existence of werewolves, who exist on the fringes of human society.

Thus begins a saga that starts small and expands to a grand scale as Axton and Leander find love but must fight to find their place between the human and werewolf worlds.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is what occurred to me as I tried to consolidate my reviews of the individual books of this series into a single review. The Axton & Leander series by S. P. Wayne is comprised of three books: Winter Wolf, City Wolf, and Everything Carries Me To You. The series is self-published, and according to all evidence that I can find these are Wayne’s first books. It shows, but this is not a deal-killer. There are some copyediting errors, though they diminish as the series proceeds and it is all good enough to forgive the minor errors.

What you get to see here is the development of an author into an outstanding talent. This means each book gets progressively better – better characterization, better secondary cast, better plotting. As Ms. Wayne’s world-building increases in scope, there is a delightful push back against the usual tropes of werewolf fiction, and against taking “the easy way out” in plotting. Every time I stopped reading and tried to predict where the story was going and how it would end, I was wrong. I really loved this, and it made the book so much more rewarding for me!

Both Axton and Leander are relatable, complex characters who develop and show us more of their personalities as we go. Sure, Axton starts off a reclusive hermit and Leander appears to be an obnoxious douchebro, but by the middle of the second book you’re cheering for them both and learning more and more about their motivations. I found the banter in the books particularly charming, not just between the two main characters but with and between the secondary characters that join the story in City Wolf. Throughout the books the dialogue stays consistent with what we know about the characters and how they would speak. Wayne also excels in setting a scene; one of the stars of Winter Wolf is the mountain wilderness itself, snowy and unforgiving.

The bedroom door is wide-open in these books, which is to say that if explicit descriptions of two guys getting hot and steamy are not your thing then you may not find these books to your liking. That said, if you like a good werewolf book (and not just a romance book – there’s so much more happening here than just romance!) or a good urban fantasy, I can strongly recommend this series.

Winter Wolf – 3.5 out of 5
City Wolf – 4.5 out of 5
Everything Carries Me Back to You – 5 out of 5
Axton and Leander series – 5 out of 5, carried by the strong finish of the last book

Originally posted at http://wolfhusky.net/duncan/wp/2016/06/book-review-axton-leander-series-by-s-p-wayne/ on 22 June 2016.
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Duncan da Husky
24 May 2016 @ 09:53 am

If the past year and a half has had a theme for me, it has been understanding mental health and what maintaining good mental health requires. Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I have always been a worrier, constantly fretting about bad possibilities and such. When confronted I was always laughed it off with, “I’m a worrier; it’s what I do. It’s my hobby.”

Somewhere along the line I realized that maybe that’s not quite normal. Maybe being in a state of frequent anxiety, lying awake at night worrying about things I can’t change, wasn’t always necessary. It took me a long time to figure this out - years, actually. And it was a big step when I finally talked to my doctor about this a little over a year ago and started on a path to setting myself to rights. I can honestly say it was the right decision, and my life has improved immeasurably since. I admit that sometimes feel guilty concerning myself with self-care, but I need to remind myself that sometimes you need to bail out your own boat before you can sail to assist others.

I have given a lot of thought to stress and anxiety: what causes it, how to avoid it. I am fortunate that my current job, while occasionally stressful, is usually pretty easygoing. Travel is always stressful to me, so after consideration I realized that the smartest thing to do is to do what it takes to lower that stress - TSA Precheck, buying upgrades to premium economy (or first class, if the pricing is right), allowing plenty of time at the airports. This has made it a much more pleasant experience and business travel is much less likely to leave me a total wreck.

Similarly, I’ve given a lot of thought to social interactions. Over the past decade+, the organizational bug has led me to want to plan Big Events - big parties, restaurant outings, that sort of thing. I came to realize that while the sense of accomplishment was great, at the end of things I frequently wasn’t happy. I didn’t get to spend as much time with friends as I would have liked, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and sometimes I was just glad that it was over with. I finally recognized that I was creating stress for myself for no good reason.

From a social standpoint, we shifted to smaller gatherings at our house for dinner. While still a fun organizational challenge, it also allowed for greater interaction with friends and was a more enjoyable experience all around. The downside of this is that we can’t invite all of our friends to every gathering, which invariably means that someone will hear of something going on that they are not invited to. I feel quite guilty about this, because I hate the idea of anyone feeling excluded. The reality is, though, that this is necessary to help keep me balanced. To all of our friends, I can only ask for patience and your understanding. If all goes well, now that we are off the strict dietary program, I hope to make small dinner parties a more frequent occasion at our house and invite a constantly-changing group of friends each time.  (And yes, part of this this is a very long-winded apology in advance lest anyone ever feel left out.)

At conventions, while throwing huge parties has been a thing for us, I have to admit that I’d be OK letting that fall by the wayside as well. Smaller, more laid-back gatherings are more likely to occur. Something that will not change (overall) is Wuffmeet, our annual party. That is our one big fun event and I love helping to organize it. The one thing that must change, though, is finally committing to what we have said that we needed to do for a long time: offloading some of the responsibilities of the event to friends who have said they are willing to help. What this looks like is still to be determined, but it is something that needs to happen.

In all of this you have probably noticed I’m talking about “me” and “I”. What about my husband? Dan has been incredibly supportive through all of this, putting up with my ups and downs, and always helping to keep me grounded. While not a complete introvert, he has introvert tendencies, and I have come to understand that better. We have agreed that keeping our social event planning more limited is something that works well for both of us, and that there are times when it just needs to be us alone doing something together and that’s OK. I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am and how lucky I feel to have wonderful man like him by my side.

So this is where I am right now. I am in a constantly-evolving state, learning what works and what doesn’t, and making changes to my life as necessary. It’s not easy, but I believe in the end I will be happier and more at peace, and those dear to me will be happier as well.
Duncan da Husky

I realized yesterday that I bought my first M/M romance book on June 7, 2015. They've all been through Amazon Kindle (read using the Kindle app on my iPad or laptop), which is good and bad – good for easy accessibility, bad for impulse buying! While musing about this over the last few days I made some observations:

  • Everyone in this genre is fit, muscle-bound, and well-endowed. As someone in the rather average-to-chubby side of the spectrum this was a little off-putting until I realized that as a gay man, I am not the target demographic for these books. The majority of the market is women writing for women, and as much as women are subjected to ridiculous beauty standards by men I suppose turnabout is fair play, particularly when it comes to fantasizing. And that’s OK – the beauty of reading is I build whatever image of the characters I like in my mind as I read. That said, it would be nice to find something well-written with guys who are average or maybe even a little bearish (which apparently exists!).
  • M/M romance novel covers range from OK to hilariously bad. To whit:

    I’ll assume this is due to self-published works or working with a small publisher of limited means. Since I’m buying ebooks it doesn’t really matter much to me, though I’ve learned to avoid looking at the cover before I read a book’s synopsis.
  • Dreamspinner Press is one of the biggest publishers of M/M Romance out there. They have a lot of good stuff…and a lot of dreck.
  • Goodreads is invaluable for exploring a new genre of fiction, but you can’t take the numerical ratings at face value. I find I need to read the reviews to see what the average reviewer is reading for – it’s often not what I’m looking for in a book. Even so, I’ve been trying to limit my explorations to books/authors whose average reviews run better than 4.0 (out of 5). The pickings are starting to get a little slim. This leads me to…
  • The more narrow the genre, the fewer the possible titles, and the even fewer possible titles worth reading. M/M romance, no problem. M/M Romance/Paranormal, ok but fewer. M/M Romance/Paranormal/Werewolves, you start to really narrow your choices. There are still some gems to be found, though.
  • The fans of each genre on Goodreads have their own jargon and acronyms. For M/M Romance you have things like MC (main character), HEA (happily ever after), Gay For You (GFY). The latter notion (“I’m straight, but I’ll go gay for you”) annoys me slightly because I believe the correct term would be “bisexual” but there’s no point in getting my hackles up over it.
  • I’ve found things that I adore in a book: a drawn-out courtship, good writing, a coherent plot, and likeable characters. I also like well-constructed conflict, though not to the point where everything bad in the world happens to the main characters. Many reviewers dismissively call this “angst” but I think it is an essential storytelling element.
  • Conversely, I’m not a fan of instant-meet-fall-in-love-and-directly-into-bed, more sex than plot, or ridiculous plot developments that only exist for an obvious non-plot related purpose (i.e. introducing a character for the next book in the series).
  • Many books follow a very obvious structure: Introduce characters. Introduce conflict between characters. Resolve conflict between characters. Introduce conflict between characters and outside parties/forces. Resolve conflict between characters and outside parties/forces. Happily ever after. Now, this is certainly not unique to this genre by any means, but this is the first time I’ve seen such blatant examples of plotting by numbers. Good books can follow this slavishly as long as it is well-written and well-plotted.
  • Writing a good first book is the easy part. Writing sequels is more difficult. Writing sequels that include the same characters as the first book and keeping the reader’s interest is really, really hard, particularly if you’ve already wrapped up their story with a Happily Ever After in the first book.
  • Finding one author you really like and working your way through their books is pretty awesome (see also: Amy Lane).
  • (Edited to add one I forgot!) Apparently in M/M romances, there are no tops and there are no bottoms. Everyone is a switch. Cute in concept, not particularly likely from my experience. There’s probably some interesting psychology behind this - authors introducing a notion of equality between partners, perhaps, although that gets into the probematic question of whether either role is a sign of dominance or submission. Or maybe they just like to see everyone having fun in as many ways as possible!

  • I have really enjoyed this year of reading, and I am still learning more about the genre and finding new and interesting authors (and revisiting authors whose other works I've read, too!). After taking literally a few decades off from casual reading, I am finding this a welcome and refreshing return to something that I have always deeply enjoyed.
    Duncan da Husky
    15 May 2016 @ 10:07 am

    Have you ever read a scene in a book that was so powerfully emotional and vivid that you can still see and feel it clearly even months after finishing the book?  For me, it’s in Amy Lane’s Keeping Promise Rock. The reviews on Goodreads are interesting - many low-to-middling ratings by people who say it’s “too angsty” (these are offset by more reviews raving about it, which makes me glad because that was how I found the book!). I don’t know if I’m approaching it differently, or if I can visualize the characters and their situations more, or maybe it’s just that others are just looking for a light and fluffy read, which this definitely is not.

    I can’t really go into the details of the scene due to spoilers, but for those who have read the book it is the one with Deacon in the storm with Crick’s horse. It really sticks with me and I don’t know why, but I’m glad that I read it and that it could invoke that depth of feeling. I guess the book is going into my to-reread pile!

    Originally posted 28 April 2016
    Duncan da Husky

    How to Howl at the Moon, by Eli Easton (Howl at the Moon #1)
    How to Walk Like a Man, by Eli Easton (Howl at the Moon #2)

    First off, a few things about me: I’m a gay man who enjoys well-written gay romance novels. I am a complete sucker for courtship stories. Finally, I’m a fan of anthropomorphic fiction and art (colloquially, a furry fan).

    All of these things combine to make me the target demographic for these books (though the latter is not a requirement – if you enjoy fantasy fiction, this will be up your alley as well).

    The full review is below the cut...
    Read more...Collapse )

    Originally posted 23 March 2016
    Duncan da Husky
    15 May 2016 @ 10:03 am
    Well, here we go! As of today, Dan and I are participating in Centegra Hospital’s Optifast Program. You can find more info here, but here’s the short version:
    •    12 weeks of nothing but Optifast shakes, bars, and soups.
    •    8 weeks of transitioning back to real food
    •    8 weeks of maintenance/consultation

    During the first 12 weeks there are weekly classes, bloodwork, and metabolism monitoring. After that, there are monthly meetings/consultations, and follow-up with the program. This is a Really Big Deal, but it is something that we feel needs to be done.

    Some Frequently Asked Questions below the cut!
    Read more...Collapse )
    Originally posted 09 February 2016
    Duncan da Husky
    15 May 2016 @ 10:00 am

    Why do I keep working for Midwest FurFest, even after 16 years? Last night’s Closing Ceremonies reminded me why.

    MFF’s charity this year was Save-A-Vet (http://ift.tt/XW2mgm), a group that helps rescue military and law enforcement working dogs when their service to country and community is done, and provides housing and relief for disabled veterans who help take care of the dogs. It’s a wonderful cause, and the people running it are incredibly nice.

    Fund raising went on all throughout the convention. At Closing Ceremonies, the readout of the money raised rolled in. $800 from one event, $500 from another. $400 just from passing the hat at a comedy improv event. The Charity Auction, highlighted by a hockey stick signed by the 2015 Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks which went for $5,500, brought in a total of $8,600. Add to that several thousand dollars in donations from the jar on their table (including a check for $1,000!), and the total came to $19,400. The charity thought that was wonderful - their annual operating budget is $21,000.

    Then came the famous “One More Thing”…a giant corgi brought out a large novelty check from the convention for $40,000. The Save-A-Vet guys were overwhelmed, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Once everything settled down, it was announced that the final take was just shy of $60,000.

    And here’s the part that reminds me why I love this community.

    A voice from the back of the audience (of 1,000+) called out “How shy are you?” And it was noted that they were at $59,400. And that’s when someone came up from the audience and tossed a twenty dollar bill on the stage. Then someone else came up. And another until soon there was a steady stream of people walking up, dropping off cash, and returning to their seats. This went on for a couple of minutes as the charity and even the convention leadership looked on in astonishment. And in the end, that little extra help turned out to be an additional $2,600. And again, there were tears of gratitude all around.

    Furry fandom is a composed of people from all walks of life who like to get together at conventions, hang out with friends, wear funny fake animal suits, and make art of animal people. Yeah, they’re weird.

    But you know what? I’m proud to call myself part of that bunch of weirdos!

    originally posted 08 December 2015
    Duncan da Husky
    15 May 2016 @ 09:57 am
    I’ve been reading romances lately, and a thought struck me. It’s comforting and even jealousy-inspiring to read of burning hot relationships and declarations of undying love, but in reality? Maintaining a relationship like that would be absolutely freaking exhausting! It’s an interesting reminder of the realities of relationships, and that holding up romance fiction as some sort of ideal is a really bad idea.
    Duncan da Husky
    15 May 2016 @ 09:53 am
    Believe it or not, I do still read LJ. It comes up in my morning tabs each day and I enjoy reading the friends who still post here.

    These days I'm posting much more to Twitter and Tumblr (the latter of which is mirrored in my personal blog). I'm going to repost a couple of things which were important to me over the last 8 months or so, so there is at least some new content here :-)

    In the future, I will make an effort to post my occasional writing here. I'll leave the photos and fluffy reblogs and such to Tumblr, though.
    Duncan da Husky

    Originally published at Tom Brady's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

    Arctic Char on a cedar plank with a brown sugar-mustard glaze (and Pumpking in the background!) (at Beelow’s Steakhouse)

    on tumblr: http://ift.tt/1LPQ57u

    Duncan da Husky

    Originally published at Tom Brady's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

    The Pajun Pancake. #yum (at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club)

    on tumblr: http://ift.tt/1Q1GnAu

    Duncan da Husky

    Originally published at Tom Brady's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

    Also, today’s specials. I went with the pajun pancakes, though. (at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club)

    on tumblr: http://ift.tt/1ErpQ7o

    Duncan da Husky

    Originally published at Tom Brady's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

    Decisions, decisions… (at Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club)

    on tumblr: http://ift.tt/1LDQJEY

    Duncan da Husky
    29 August 2015 @ 07:07 pm

    Originally published at Tom Brady's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

    #Furry table represent!

    on tumblr: http://ift.tt/1X0kqq5

    Duncan da Husky
    29 August 2015 @ 06:39 pm

    Originally published at Tom Brady's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

    #Furry table represent!

    on tumblr: http://ift.tt/1X0kqq5