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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
 
 
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.

Ratings:
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.