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

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

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 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:  Altered heart by Kate Steele

REVIEW: Altered heart by Kate Steele

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Genre: LGBT Were/Shape-shifter Paranormal

As a werewolf and an enforcer for the Committee for Supernatural Behavioral Enforcement, Mick Matranga has seen his share of lowlifes but Kevin Sutter, pack alpha, is one of the lowest. He has forcibly turned and taken prisoner a young human. Mick has been assigned to affect a rescue and bring Sutter to justice.

Dispatching the bad guy turns out to be the easy part of his assignment. Sutter’s prisoner, Rio Hardin, turns out to be a smart-mouthed, sassy brat with the face of an angel who takes Mick’s heart by storm. He’s also a runaway turned hustler who has suffered numerous abuses in the course of his tumultuous life.

Bound by his code of honor and determined that Rio be protected at all costs, Mick makes it his personal duty to see to it that no one hurts Rio again. If that includes ignoring the instinctual knowledge that Rio is his mate and Rio’s own desire to be with him, so be it.

There’s only one flaw in his plan. Rio is about to go through his first shift, a very painful process which can only be made tolerable by applying a certain amount of distraction–sexual distraction. Mick has two choices. He can leave Rio in the hands of his very capable brother or he can give in to the mutual heat and need between them and indoctrinate his young charge into the ways of the werewolf.

Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sex, Sex while in shifted animal form, Violence (mild), Voyeurism, Sex for money.

Review:

Dear Kate Steele,

I remember enjoying shifter stories very much when I had just discovered m/m, and your book was one of the stories which I read when I was still a relative newbie. I still love well written werewolves stories although now I am pickier about what I want to see in those stories. I was rereading a lot of my old favorites and I was curious how your book would stand up. Overall, I enjoyed this book even though I could not help but shake my head about certain things here and there. It was an engaging read though, and I reread it in one sitting.

The blurb offers a very good summary of the plot. Mick is I suppose a supernatural policeman of the sorts. His organization (which name is self-explanatory) sent him to save Rio from the alpha werewolf who caught him and had been abusing him. Mick is attracted to Rio, but he doesn’t act on it because Rio has been badly abused and last thing he needs is another sexual relationship. Of course they will have a relationship by the time the book ends, and of course I wish Rio’s abuse and its aftermath were dealt with more thoroughly (this is a wish I often have while reading m/m books, but I digress).

However, because they are werewolves – Rio a newly turned one and Mick a born were — I was able to swallow it in this book. They heal faster and I guess the mate bond tramps everything else eventually. Now I really appreciated that they were not having sex the second they saw each other and the only (LONG) sex scene (they may be two scenes – I am not exactly sure if they should be considered separate scenes or not) starts when the book is 75% over. I appreciated an attempt to deal with abuse survivor in at least a somewhat believable matter for me (again, there is the issue of them being werewolves, which makes a lot of things different than they would be for a regular humans) and it is mentioned few times that Rio was involved in regular counselling sessions. I think I decided to take what I could get and be happy with it.

I also appreciated that the issue of them being mates is not thrown upon the reader right away. If the reader has read one or two werewolves stories before this one, I am sure it will be clear enough from the narrative even if Mick does not say it to us till late in the book. One of the things I am looking for in shifter stories these days (and this is a big reason why I am not reading too many of them) is a fresh twist of any kind on mating bond. “I am your mate, you are my mate hear me roar now” drives me up the wall. I like to find the books where bond and love can come independently from one another; or any variation on the tried and true theme, really. I was about to type that this book offers something of a twist on the theme, but then I realized that maybe it offered even more and that was something that I missed when I was reading the book the first time around. Mick for all intents and purposes seems to be a bisexual – his wife died and then his attraction to Rio comes four years later (that’s when the story takes place – four years after his wife’s death). So he never says that he loved his wife any less than he loves Rio, and from that I am concluding that either one can have several true mates or love and the mating bond can come up independently from one another and neither is diminished. I am extremely pleased that I am interpreting this a little differently from when I read it the first time.

I guess the biggest positive of this story for me was that the author was able to make me really like Mick and Rio. I liked that Rio was able to stand his ground towards Mick more than once, even if Mick had to rescue him from difficult situations. I liked that Mick, big and strong alpha as he was, never tried to go alphahole on Rio. I just liked them together a lot and the story flowed very well.

“Mick glanced back. Rio had halted his forward progress and stood with arms crossed over his chest. “What’s the problem?”
“I just spent four weeks with one werewolf psycho who took me home with him. I’m not volunteering for another round.”
“First of all, I’m not a psycho. I’m a duly appointed officer of CFSBE. You have heard of it, right?”
With a grudging shrug of his shoulders, Rio nodded.

“Then you should know that being an enforcer for the CFSBE is like being an FBI agent, a cop, or any other law enforcement officer you can think of.”

Unfortunately, if you ask me whether there is an evil woman in the story, I will have to tell you yes, and she is big time evil. Usually I can push down my annoyance if there are other, not- evil women being present, and I am happy to say that they are there too, but the evil woman is just so revolting that I cannot help but be a little annoyed.

Grade: C+/B-

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