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Kaje Harper

JOINT REVIEW:  Unjustified Claims (Hidden Wolves, Book 3) by Kaje Harper

JOINT REVIEW: Unjustified Claims (Hidden Wolves, Book 3) by Kaje...

KH_Unjustified_Claims

 Brandt Davis loved being part of his werewolf pack, until they found his stash of gay porn. He escaped their anger, running in wolf-form into the wilderness, but he can’t live that way forever. And he can’t hide in fur like a coward when an injured man needs his help.

Ethan Sjulstad knows life is making him crazy when a solo hike into the Boundary Waters seems reasonable. Then a bad fall leaves him injured and facing death. Delirious, he hallucinates being rescued by a big grey wolf and a naked woodland godling. For a man who has always loved fantasy, it’s worth surviving just to find out what the hell is going on.

Review:

Sirius:
Dear Kaje Harper, I have been waiting for the next book in your “Hidden Wolves” series pretty much since I finished the previous book. And I wanted to review this book together with my former co-reviewer and good friend Raine for the sake of old times because we reviewed the first two books in the series together at Reviews by Jessewave. Hi Raine and welcome to DA!

For the readers who have not read these books yet, this is Book Three, and even though the main romance in this one is between completely new characters who had no previous relationships with wolves in Aaron’s pack, I do *not* recommend starting with this book. You will not miss much plot-wise, but you will miss the evolution of the werewolves’ society, which has been explained over the course of all three books.

For those who are not interested in looking at the reviews of the first two books, I want to briefly mention that in Kaje Harper’s world werewolves live in total secrecy, their society is harsh and brutal and secrecy is necessary. If you meet a human who somehow learned of werewolves’ existence, you kill him or you bring it to your Alpha’s attention and they will take care of it. Also, these awesome werewolves used to routinely kill their kids if they were found to be gay. This is despite the fact that in this world there are no female werewolves – the werewolf boy is born as a result of the mating between a male werewolf and a human mother. There are not that many births happening in the first place.

If you read the first two books you know that this intolerance is what started all the changes – some werewolves decided that they do not want to kill their gay packmates anymore. There was also a charismatic new Alpha who showed up, after which a certain pack split into two with that Alpha, named Aaron, taking charge of the second pack. That second pack is now known for being accepting of gays, as much as it is possible in this world. Aaron was also pretty sure that the secrecy was going to end soon and so all the werewolves need to at least try to prepare and work together to have some kind of the plan.

Raine:
The first book in the series was outstanding for me, with gorgeous main characters for the romance, very dramatic, believably vicious external threats and wonderfully imagined paranormal characters in a real world situation. I still ration my rereads. The next one was a bit up and down. I had problems with the next starring couple and some of the plot, but I still loved this wolf universe and the author’s easy flowing style, which has a lovely integrity of emotion behind it. However I have not reread it, which is the gold standard for me.

What do you think about the title of this book? Are the unjustified claims Ethan’s guilt over his brother and the more general pack claims against homosexuality?

Sirius:
I do agree with your interpretation of the title, but I think we can argue that what Brandt’s former pack actually wanted from him at the end can be called “unjustified” as well, same as what some town residents demanded from Ethan.

Overall I was very pleased to meet Brandt and Ethan. I ended up thinking of both men as complex and interesting characters. Brandt is running from his werewolf pack because he was outed for having gay porn on his computer and in the forest he finds Ethan, who has been injured, and eventually decides that he has to help him.

Of course nothing in this unexpected rescue operation is easy and Ethan is not always making things easier either:

“Brandt glared at him intently. Ethan returned Brandt’s stare equally hard, despite the fatigue that was making it difficult to see, and the sinking feeling that crazy was a legitimate question. “I can’t get airlifted out. Can’t”
“Why the fuck not?”
“Trust me.”
“Not unless you will come up with something really amazing for a reason.”
“Amazing?”
“Like, the airlift guy hates you and will push you out of the chopper. Or your head explodes above a hundred feet of elevation. Amazing”

But eventually Ethan is in the hospital and Brandt ends up staying with him for a while, because he needs a place to stay and a job, and Ethan as a motel owner gives him one.

I really liked the building romance between these two guys for many reasons. I liked the characters, I liked that it had such a delicious slow burn feel and I thought the balance of external and internal issues that kept popping up and then getting resolved was done really well.

Their insecurities made complete sense to me. Brandt identifies as bisexual and of course when he had to hide his sexuality or to be killed for it for a long time, he would be insecure when he met a guy he liked. At first he would not even tell Ethan that he was bisexual. I really liked that in this story we do not have a very prolonged angsting by Ethan – is he straight, is he gay? Is he bisexual? Oh he *must* be straight. No, Ethan calls Brandt on his denials and omissions pretty soon and we do not have the real issue become an artificial conflict, or mini conflict.

Brandt also likes a little kink (He likes to wear lingerie) and he is even more insecure about that and constant reassurance from Ethan was very sweet and made sense to me. Ethan was not repeating it gazillion times, but he did repeat it and I thought it was done just the right amount.

Ethan’s issues were connected to his past and I thought it was extremely well done, because I could understand why Ethan would blame himself for something like that even though I knew it was not his fault at all.

Raine:
I found Ethan slightly less successful overall as a character. Just to contradict myself, while I disliked his passivity in accepting guilt for his brother’s actions, I really hated the method he used in his proactive stance on finding out about his guest’s mysteries. It left me feeling so anxious. However, I liked the real life scale of his acceptance of the limitations of his composing ambitions. The quirkiness of his fantasy daydreams added another piece to the puzzle. I thought his competence with tech and computers reinforced the inevitability of the change coming to the hidden wolves. The possible strategy the author lays out is similar to the one used in Patricia Briggs’ wolf books and always struck me as being particularly inspired.

There were a couple of little things about Ethan and Brandt as they start to interact sexually which felt a bit off to me, mainly why Brandt needed to be told that having dried come stuck to his pubes would be uncomfortable…… I also found Brandt’s coitus interruptus nocturnal woodland running trips made me sigh a lot.

However, in the main, Brandt is another success for the author in nicely drawn werewolves. His inner voice was very appealing, a mix of self-doubt and awareness combined with an interesting physicality expressed both as a wolf and with his sexual kinks. By the way, when he is outed by his porn, not just gay porn but gay porn with a lingerie kink, this was an interesting side issue because it gave us a chance to look at how Brandt’s traditional pack reacted to shades of grey in their black and white rules of sexuality. I got a nice warm glow from Brandt’s very protective stance over Ethan and his property. The scene with Mara, full of forthright home truths, was also satisfying,

“You can’t just walk into town and tell people who’ve live here all their lives what the hell they should do.”
“Well if you all haven’t figured out yet how to be decent human beings, maybe you need some telling.”

The slow build to their relationship ended up balancing on the edge of irritation for me, but this might have been because I was anxiously waiting for Aaron’s pack to come into the story somehow. I loved catching up with these guys, especially Paul and Simon, and how their pack is developing. Aaron felt much more at ease with being top wolf and there were no more exhausting vacillations about his role. He had all the strength I am unashamedly addicted to in Alpha werewolves.

Sirius:
Until the book hits about the halfway mark we do not even meet Aaron and his pack – Brandt and Ethan’s story unfolds without their appearance. Did I think the connection was a little artificial? Yes, I did, but because they do live in the same werewolf society and because that society is not that big I could buy the reason for their appearance at Ethan’s motel well enough. At least I did not have to work hard to suspend disbelief that much.

I loved meeting Aaron and Zach, Simon and Paul and other guys again. Especially Simon and Paul; I loved their banter and it provided some rare humorous moments for the book.

“There’s good running here. Lots of fat rabbits.”
Simon grinned and put his hands over Paul’s ears. “You didn’t hear that, babe”.
Paul pulled his hands down, but held his wrists. “I thought it was one of your goals to teach me that wolves aren’t Rin Tin Tin, or Lassie. Nature, red in tooth and claw, and all that.”
Simon’s smile became soft, looking at the human who was his mate. “You’d have to be pretty dumb if you were still figuring that out. But you like rabbits.”
“Also rabbit stew.”
“What! A traitor to pet bunnies in your care.”
“Watch out. I’ll actually become a vegan and there’ll be no more bacon in your house.”
“No, no. I take it back. Eat all the pet bunnies you like.”

Now when Aaron’s pack and Aaron himself learned Brandt’s story of course it made sense that they would not shy away from Brandt and would try to help him with his troubles in one way or another. Also, in the second half of the book the theme of “when will the werewolves come out to the humans” picks up the pace a little bit and there are some interesting developments at the end of the story.

I keep thinking about whether the mix of the two storylines was done well – Bran and Ethan and Aaron and his pack – and I would have to say that I think it was done well enough. Granted, there was no urgent need for them to meet initially, but if the writer needed that meeting, I do not see how it could have been done any better. I was a bit disappointed though because I thought Aaron escaped too easily out of possibly taking a stand on a certain moral issue. I was *extremely* disappointed how he handled a similar issue in the second book, but at least one could make strong arguments for him not having much of a choice. And in this book the issue came up again, and we are having a “saved by the bell” moment? I wanted him to put his money where his mouth was and shield an innocent human, instead of a convenient plot event doing it for him.

I loved that Mark’s wife Megan was shown to be such a strong mate and someone who did not hesitate to ask inconvenient questions and insist on something when she thought it was right. One of the issues I had with this society from the book one is how horribly misogynistic it was. It all fit with the violence, killing gay kids and humans who learned about them, and I understand that the idea was that even such a society could slowly change. I do not hold it against the book, but because the writing is so good, I was so furious every time I thought about the world where these wolves could kill the kids and not even tell their unbonded wives why they killed their sons. That is why I really like that Megan does not back down if she feels she is right, even if Aaron keeps telling her that “pack is not a democracy” and I really liked other female characters in this book. Mara was not always likeable, but she was complex and interesting and she seemed able to learn at least somewhat from her mistakes.
My grade is B.

Raine:
Overall I liked this third book, lots of good storytelling detail and character development, and if the juxtaposition of new guys and old guys was a bit wobbly in the plot department it was no big deal for me either. My biggest problem was the use of the deus ex machina to get Aaron & Co. out of a very deep hole. I don’t think it is cute to acknowledge a cliché and then still use it. So I was disappointed with the anticlimactic finish to this part of the long-term plot arc. The romantic conclusions for the new couples and the old, in contrast, were well up to scratch and finished things off for this book very neatly.
Grade: B-

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REVIEW:  Another Place in Time by Tamara Allen, Joanna Chambers, K.J. Charles, Kaje Harper, Jordan L. Hawk, Aleksander Voinov,

REVIEW: Another Place in Time by Tamara Allen, Joanna Chambers,...

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Note: All proceeds from the purchase of this anthology will be donated to AllOut.org in celebration of LGBT History Month, October 2014.

Dear Authors:

“Queer people have been left thinking that history does not belong to them — that outside this modern moment was nothing but a blank white space, or worse, nothing but unrelenting condemnation. It’s not good to be left feeling disconnected, as if you have no family and no place in the world, as if you don’t belong,” writes Alex Beecroft in the introduction to this anthology. A powerful sentiment, which left me pretty disappointed that the book contains only m/m stories, when the world of “queer” encompasses so much more. Thankfully, there were few disappointments aside from that.

What I appreciated about this anthology, aside from the high quality of the writing, was that most of the characters face conflicts that have nothing to do with sex. Despite some regrets about necessary compromises, they’re primarily coming from a place of acceptance and not fighting against their sexuality. Each story is definitely a romance, but the focus is less on being gay than on living in a particular time and place, while also being gay.

“Office Romance” by Tamara Allen takes us to the Unites States shortly after World War I, and two young men who are struggling to recover from their wartime experiences, each in their own way. When an efficiency expert pits Frederick Wetherly against his colleague Casey Gladwin in a competition to keep one job, Frederick is disheartened but determined to win. It’s not just that he needs the money to pay doctor bills, but the kindness of his fellow workers has made the office a homey place — and he certainly deserves the job more than Gladwin, who’s always flirting and socializing when he should be working. Then fear of losing causes Frederick to act unethically, and he discovers there’s far more to Gladwin than he had realized.

Narrated by Frederick, the tone of the story is quiet, even ordinary — a sympathetic glimpse at an Everyman who happens to be a gay Everyman. It’s not just a romance, but a story about waking up, rejoining the world, and once again being able to fight for what you believe in. As is typical for Allen, the one sex scene is warm rather than hot — without being at all coy or euphemistic — and seems just right for a 27 page story. The progression to a happy-for-now ending feels a little fast, but forgivably so. B

“Introducing Mr. Winterbourne” by Joanna Chambers takes us to a more familiar historical setting and characters. As the third son of an earl, Lysander is being pressured into joining the Church, when what he really wants is to manage an estate. But to his family, his love for the outdoors is simply “mucking about with horses and mud,” only fit for a child. When he’s asked to show the wealthy but lowborn brother of his soon-to-be brother-in-law around town, Lysander becomes even more aware of the snobbishness and uselessness of his family and social circle. Then a fencing match gets oddly heated, and he senses an opportunity he’s rarely encountered before.

This didn’t grab me; it was a pleasant read, but nothing about the characters or setting stood out. I can’t help comparing it to Beguiled, which has such emotionally powerful and erotic sex scenes; here, there just wasn’t enough built between the characters to make me want to read about them having explicit sex. I was also puzzled by the “gossip rag” opening of the story, which seemed to promise some plot points that never came up again — perhaps this is intended to begin a new series? C

“The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh” by K.J. Charles is also a Regency about a lord’s extra son and a wealthy commoner, but brings an awesome old skool vibe — an intense version of one of those wacky “stake your daughter at the gambling table” plots. Except this is m/m, so it plays out somewhat differently. I was on the edge of my seat as old antagonists Ash and Webster battle in a winner-take-all game of cards in which the stakes get increasingly odd and thrilling — first the coat off Ash’s back, then his shirt, then…? The end result — no pun intended — is blistering in its intensity.

This might come under the header of erotic romance, since there isn’t a whole lot of time for tenderer feelings to develop, but I didn’t feel anything was missing. The backstory was a bit awkward, dribbled out to us in bits, but overall this was a WOW. My first Charles read will certainly not be my last. A-

“Unfair in Love and War” by Kaje Harper is the longest of the stories, taking time to create complex characters and a developing relationship. (As well as multiple sex scenes.) Warren comes home to help his mother after his brother’s death in World War II; exempt from service because childhood polio shortened one of his legs, he’s hoping to find a job that will contribute to the war effort. His return home starts with a bang when he interrupts a laughing group painting a swastika on a neighbor’s door. The new neighbor is Stefan, a Swiss immigrant who is also unable to serve, because of seizures. Assumed to be German, he’s become a target for neighborhood rage.

While helping Stefan repair his damaged home, Warren discovers that the beautiful younger man is interested in him, yet withdrawn, shy, and somewhat traumatized from a previous bad experience. He introduces Stefan to good sex, resolutely bracing himself for when his lover gets bored and moves on. But Stefan is holding in a lot of pain and secrets, and their supposedly casual relationship becomes highly complex.

The romance is nurturing, involving, and emotional, but I also particularly enjoyed the sense of time and place in this story. Like most of the stories, it’s a portrait of a gay man who’s just living his life, yet being gay is a bigger part of Warren’s identity — he’s even out to his family. But it’s not his only identity, and being an American, a son, a brother, and a part of a community all have an impact on his feelings. B

“Carousel” by Jordan L. Hawk is an odd-man-out in the anthology, a paranormal mystery story with a touch of horror. It’s also part of the “Whyborne and Griffin” series, but isn’t hard to follow as a stand-alone. The setting is a fictional town in New England; the time unspecified, but apparently around the 1900s. Noted detective Griffin Flaherty is asked to investigate a child’s disappearance, a task which gets him and his lover Percival Whyborne into unexpected danger.

There’s some effective creepiness to the story, but the romance felt awkwardly inserted; it might read better if you’re already familiar with the couple. The most interesting aspect in terms of history is Griffin’s backstory: he was adopted from an orphan train. Having been rejected by his adoptive parents because of his lover, he’s now torn between wanting to look for the biological brothers he lost, and being worried that they might reject him as well if he finds them. The intellectual, somewhat strait-laced Percival is also intriguing, and I’m curious to read more about him. But I don’t think this story fits the overall theme of the anthology well. C+

“Deliverance” by Aleksandr Voinov is a rewrite of a story that’s no longer available, and follows the novella The Lion of Kent. (Which may or may not be a romance — it clearly doesn’t adhere to the usual rules.) You don’t see medieval m/m that often, for obvious reasons, and the resolution of the conflict here is far from tidy. (A sequel is planned.) But it is a very stirring story, and satisfying in a unique way.

William joins the order of the Templar monks seeking “solace and redemption.” Fighting infidels gives him a sanctioned outlet for his aggressive nature, and six years of complete chastity have tamped down other needs. Then his former lover Guy turns up as a pilgrim knight, and insists on not only reminding him of the pleasure they shared, but on putting up a fight for his soul.

Of all these settings, William’s world is the farthest away from ours — not only in terms of actual time, but in terms of language and mores. The prose does a good job of creating an alien atmosphere that’s still understandable and relatable. (Although William’s mindset can be an uncomfortable one to be in.) The tempestuous, competitive physicality of William and Guy’s relationship gives the story a lot of energy, and though the resolution leaves many loose ends, it fits. B

Although I didn’t love every story, I can’t give an anthology with so much terrific work in it less than an overall B. I should point out that I noticed two minor editing errors, but the production was fine otherwise.

Sincerely,

Willaful

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