A Wynter Review: Wolf, WY (Wolf #1) by A.F. Henley (A 2 Review Novel)

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5      ★★★★★

Wolf, WY CoverThere’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…

The beauty of this novel has two parts. The first was how easy it was to sink into the world of Wolf, WY. The second lies in the two story perspectives presented in every chapter. The first and most obvious perspective is Randy Connor through whose point-of-view we follow in the story. The second, less obvious one is of the wolves that the author shares at the beginning of every chapter in italics. It did such a beautiful job portraying the cold – emotionally and of-the-weather, as well as the loneliness and isolation of Wolf, WY and its inhabitants.

While I wished those italics parts were longer, Henley’s ability to convey so much in so little is, in and of itself, a thing of wonder. They are a very powerful depiction of, presumably, Vaughn – a man of few words but full of emotion from holding on and keeping in all the secrets that protected himself, his family, and his community. I can just imagine how he must’ve wrestled with the notion of sharing who and what he is (and Lyle) with Randy. For me, all of that made me ask many questions about Jackie (you’ll have to read to find out who that is, I’m afraid).

As much as I could ache (and cry) for the head of the O’Connell family, I couldn’t help laughing, groaning, and shaking my head at Randy Connor, an attorney who left all he knew behind in search of a fresh start. One of the best things about Henley’s stories is his knack for getting the main character’s introduction out of the way so the story could unfold without interruption. The prologue found (“stupid”) Randy buried in the middle of his dry and sarcastic introspection about life. The following chapters unfold the mystery of the O’Connell family and how Randy changes as a person – from an arrogant and egotistical city-brat to someone who realizes that there’s a lot more to being out in the country other than self-efficiency, and that running away can’t keep being the answer to his life’s problems.

As a lover of the winter season, I loved how Henley described Wolf, WY in the cold months: a rare and most beautiful place of a winter wonderland where snow danced and both the wolves and the winds howl in harmony with each other. There is ample warning though, and as Randy came to learn, the more beautiful winter became, the more likely it is to find fun ways of maiming a person, if it doesn’t succeed in killing you first.

I found the story predictable in some areas, but I think Henley did a good job in keeping the mystery going and left plenty of opportunity for some of the questions to be answered in a sequel. I like how several of the paranormal elements were kept simple while the author inserted his own creativity and kept the characters and the circumstances real. We didn’t have two characters who meet and immediately try to make things work. What seems like indecisiveness in Vaughn (along with his coldness and curt behavior) really drives home just how much the man struggles within himself – something that Randy didn’t, and couldn’t, understand. Many of us have been there ourselves, finding that one interesting and overly intriguing person who refuses to open up. In fact, such silence tends to annoy and frustrate some more than others, doesn’t it? It certainly frustrated Randy.

If nothing else, reading the book for the children is well worth it. Hannah and Isaac are positively adorable in this novel, so full of life and character, yet don’t let their young years deceive you. They can be quite the adults when the circumstance calls for it, much to Randy’s chagrin. It made me so proud and made my heart ache all in the same instance: children grow up entirely too fast. Faster in Wolf, WY, it would seem.

And per Henley’s usual arsenal, it does contain a couple of very hot, very erotic scenes.

This is the first time this author has published a book intended for a serial. I think the readers of this book are going to fall into two groups: the ones who absolutely love it (like me) and the ones who will absolutely hate it. I do recommend the book – highly, in fact – but if my personal experiences can be called upon to make a judgment about serials for those hesitant about this novel, sometimes reading Book 2 before Book 1 might be better. It’s worked for me before.

Thank you for reading! I hope you have yourselves a lovely Fall day! ❤

The cover artist for this novel is Raphael (Boys in Ink and Color), and I must say he did a splendid job. If I had been walking the aisle of a bookstore and strode right by a showcase with this novel on it, there would definitely be a pause in stride to pick it up. The wolf eyes just draws me in. On top of that is a snow covered landscape that suggests an adventure is about to happen, or is happening, and will involve at least a wolf.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book Details:

  • Author: A. F. Henley
  • Length: ebook, 223 pages; kindle edition, 260 pages
  • Language: English
  • Series: Wolf, #1
  • Genre: Fantasy – Paranormal, M/M Fiction
  • Published: 1st edition October 21, 2015 by Less Than Three Press LLC
  • ISBN-13: 9781620046180
  • Digital ISBN: 9781620045398
  • Print ISBN: 9781620046197

Review: Second Star to the Right by A.F. Henley

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Second Star to the Right coverMason Lawrence should be happy.  He is incredibly wealthy, owns a successful company and his days are full with his business and his spare time is spent with friends and business associates.  But Mason is unhappy.  He has long held a crush on his best friend who is straight and very married.  Just spending time with him playing tennis is painful and his friend is beginning to notice a difference in the way Mason is treating him.  Something has to change and it arrives in a totally unexpected manner.

Out of concern for Mason’s lack of companionship, a friend tells Mason about a discrete escort service where Mason might find someone to spend his only vacation with.  Wary but desperate, Mason hires Jack, an outspoken, gorgeous escort to spend a week with him at his cabin in a lakeshore vacation property.  And at first, Jack is everything Mason could hope for.  He is funny, gregarious, blunt, and sexy.  A blond Peter Pan whose refusal to grow up endears him to Mason a man who has never really been a child.  Then their relationship of employer/employee starts to turn into one of friendship and then something a little more.  Can love be possible when one refuses to grow up and the other afraid of his own emotions?

The trope of rent boy/John love is a standard within the m/m genre.  Whether I enjoy a story with this plot is entirely up to how an individual author handles this topic and the twist they give to the rent boy in question.  A.F. Henley’s Second Star to the Right  and her character Jack are wonderfully endearing additions to this genre.  I have a fondness for prostitutes that make no excuses for the fact that they are, in their words “whores”.   Jack is unapologetically blunt about his tastes, his profession, and his expectations for the week ahead, much to Mason’s astonishment.  He is golden, sexy, and tall, everything that Mason wants and has never been able to have. And now that Jack is Mason’s for the week, Mason isn’t exactly sure what to do with him.

Henley makes Mason’s confusion and hesitation  both humorous and endearing when confronted with Jack’s direct manner and easy going sexuality.  Everything about Mason’s character is reflective of his personality.  He is small in stature, a fact he is uncomfortable with, comparing himself unfavorably with all he meets.  Shy and awkward, small and amenable, Mason is someone who has always been too old for his years, too responsible, too mature to enjoy childish games and pastimes.   Throw someone of that persona in a cabin for a week with a sexual adult Peter Pan and the mixture has bound to be entertaining, and a little explosive.

And while Jack is forcing Mason to open up and relax, Mason’s actions and gentle treatment of Jack is forcing Jack to reflex on his own life, including the fact that he is almost 30, an age too old for his profession.  How is a man who refuses to grow up going to live when he ages out of the only profession he has ever known?  By the time they (and the reader) have reached this stage in their relationship, both men have tumbled out of their complacency into a place of fear about their current status as well as the future.  Henley has made us care, through their interactions and past revelations, about these men. And now we teeter on the brink of self discovery along with them, full of anticipation and anxiety for the next step each man will take.  Will it be towards each other or away?

Of course, there is an emotional explosion and a denouement that offers a future for both Mason and Jack.  I think that if I had a quibble with this story, its with an ending that felt a little too abrupt for the  story that preceded it.  We get a week with Mason and Jack that feels realistic in the manner in which their relationship grows.  The arguments that come feel natural as well given each man’s emotional makeup and their present occupations.  I wish Henley had given us a little more of the events that follow upon their return to the city.  It would have made the epilogue that much more satisfactory by giving us the building blocks upon which that ending is built.

However, that issue aside, I did love Second Star to the Right.  I loved Mason and Jack in all their frailties, insecurities, and kindness, especially towards each other.  When you temper bluntness with compassion, sexuality with caring, then you have a recipe for a terrific love story and Henley has given that to us in Second Star to the Right.  I think you will enjoy it as much as I did. Consider it a highly recommended.

Cover by Aisha Akeju is simple in design but works for the story within.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: February 19th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original title Second Star to the Right
ISBN13 9781620043165
edition language English

Scattered Thoughts on the Super Bowl Team Names, Animals Cute and Fierce and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Osprey head VSwild mustangs fighting

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Its Super Bowl Sunday and for many of you  that means a day spent in front of a screen watching two teams play for the ultimate title in American football, the Superbowl Trophy and bragging rights (to say nothing of the ring and tons of  money).  This year, Super Bowl XLVIII (48) the battle is between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, ostensibly two teams named after animals.  I say that because are those animals the real deal?  Or are they fictional?  What if all NFL teams had to have real animal names?  Would the Seahawks and Broncos still be around?

If we look at last year’s Super Bowl winners, the Baltimore Ravens, the answer is clear.  Yep, Ravens exist and are forever associated with Bal’mer and Edger Allen Poe.  Ditto the Cincinnati Bengals, another animal that walks the planet, although in far fewer numbers each year.  Is the Cincinnati Extinct Bengals inconceivable?  Not really. Here are all the other  NFL Teams with animals in their names.  Can you fit the name to the city they are from (answers listed at the end, some may surprise you)?

Bears, Cardinals, Colts, Dolphins, Eagles, Falcons,Jaguars, Lions, Panthers, Rams.

But back to the Seahawks and Broncos.  There really is no such thing as a Seahawk.  There are Sea Eagles, of which our Bald Headed Eagle can be considered a member.  There is a Osprey, a raptor that is not exactly a hawk but its own genus within the Raptor order Acciptriformes. But an actual Seahawk?  No, not really, not outside a nickname. Now an Osprey is a pretty cool raptor, common here in Maryland (and in fact all of the U.S.).  I have watched Bald Eagles steal the fish right away from an Osprey pair on the Bay and had a tough time doing it. With that mask on their face and that fierce attitude, they are a force to be reckoned with.  So why not call themselves the Ospreys?  That would certainly make more sense to me and be accurate as well.

But the Broncos are no better with their name.  Broncos?  Google it and you know what comes up?  The NFL team the Broncos.  Now bucking broncos is a term used with rodeo horses.  But if the team was looking for a real animal (versus a animal sport) then they could have looked no further than the Mustang.  Wild mustangs are all over the  west.  A smaller tough wild horse, scrappy and resilient.  The Denver Mustangs?  That would have been cool, and a chance to help those herds being hunted off park land.  Hmm I wonder if ranchers around the Denver area had something to do with the name choice here?  Just saying…..

So if we were to stick to real animals, this Sunday’s game would be the Seattle Osprey vs the Denver Mustangs, a missed opportunity all around.  For education, for tie-ins with the WWF or some other conservation group.  Ah…well I can always look for the Ravens and Bears to return to glory and a chance at the Super Bowl rings once more….

For those of you who are not football enthusiasts, there are other animal bowls to choose from.  The Animal Planet has its Puppy Bowl and the Hallmark Channel is having its first ever Kitten Bowl.  Both feature puppies and kittens up for adoption and the ultimate in cuteness outside the new Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl Commercial, Puppy Love,  with puppies and Clydesdales.  But for all of you who look at these next four hours and think nap, I have a truly inspired animal bowl for you.  Nat Geo Wild has introduced this year its Fish Bowl.  Yep, a goldfish, in a fish bowl, for 4 hours, starting at 6pm.  See?  Something for everyone this year.

So what you are going to watch today?  Mislabeled Teams with large men? Puppies, Kitten or Fish?  Or something completely different?  Let me know.  I will be watching the Super Bowl commercials, reading and eating popcorn surrounded by snoozing terriers and a dancing African Grey.  Go Naked Mole Rats! I can dream, can’t I?

Now for this week’s reviews:

Monday, Feb. 3:   Second Star to the Right by A.F. Henley

Tuesday, Feb. 4:  Cupcakes by Sean Michael

Wed., Feb. 5:         Ghosts of Bourbon Street by Rowen Speedwell

Thurs., Feb. 6:      The Battle of Will by Sasha L. Miller

Friday, Feb. 7:      Frostbite Collection by Totally Bound Press

Friday, Feb. 8:      Reviewing Life by Lara Brukz

Football team name answers:   Chicago Bears,  Arizona (what no city wants them?) Cardinals,  Indianapolis (don’t even get me started) Colts,  Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars,  Detroit Lions,  Carolina (again what’s with the state? based in Charlotte) Panthers, St. Louis  (they get around) Rams.

Bowls to Watch:   Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl, Animal Planet Puppy Bowl, and Nat Geo Wild’s Fish Bowl (ok the last keeps cracking me up).  Here is the link to the Fish Bowl App.Goldie the Fish Bowl fish

Puppy Kitten Bowl

September 2013 Summary of Reviews

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September and Fall

September 2013 Book Review Summary

What a wonderful month it was for books and reviews!  Most of the books I read fell into the 5 and 4 star category, a few into the  3 star and none below that.  Series predominated the ratings this time.  Most notably the series offerings from the Pulp Friction authors. There 3d-person-sit-pile-books-reading-book-26141531were new books in well established series such as Katey Hawthorne’s Superpowered Love series as well as followup stories and new series  from such talented authors such as Kendall McKenna (The Tameness of the Wolf series) and Aleksandr Voinov (Memory of Scorpions series).

Other new series includes Poppy Dennison’s Pack Partners , Cat Grant’s Bannon’s Gym) and Harper Kingsley’s Heroes and Villains series too.  My cup (and yours) runneth over with series, all promising more great stories featuring characters we have come to love. And believe it or not, October is starting the same way!  What a fall!

So grab a pen or notebook and jot down those books and authors you may have missed the first time around.  I have linked my review to each one listed.  Happy Reading!

5 Star Rating:

Crucify (Triple Threat #4) by L.E. Harner
Defiance (Triple Threat #3) by L.E. Harner
Re-entry Burn (Superpowered Love #5) by Katey Hawthorne (supernatural)
Retribution (Triple Threat #2) by L.E. Harner (contemporary)
Scorpion (Memory of Scorpions #1) by Aleksandr Voinov (fantasy)
Strength of the Wolf (The Tameness of the Wolf #2) by Kendall McKenna

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

Accidental Alpha (Pack Partners #1) by Poppy Dennison (4.5 stars)(supernatural)
Black Dog (Bannon’s Gym #1) by Cat Grant (4.5 stars)(contemporary)
Blessed Curses by Madeleine Ribbon (4 stars) (fantasy)
City Knight (City Knight #1) by T.A. Webb (4 stars out of 5)(contemporary fiction)
Heroes and Villains (Heroes and Villains #1) by Harper Kingsley (4 stars)(supernatural)
Sonata by A.F. Henley (4.5 stars out of 5)(contemporary fiction)
Summer Lovin’ Anthology (4.75 stars out of 5) (contemporary)
The Crimson Outlaw by Alex Beecroft (4 stars)(historical)
Triple Threat (Triple Threat #1) by L.E. Harner (4.5 stars)(contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Coliseum Square by Lynn Lorenz (3.75 stars)(historical)
Roughstock: Blind Ride, Season One by BA Tortuga (3 stars) (contemporary)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating: none

1 to 1.75 Star Rating: none

And I Saw A Sea of Squirrels….and the Week Ahead in Reviews!

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And Then I Saw A Sea of Squirrels……grey squirrel drawing

Its fall and my patio and lawns are full of nature’s bounty, aka nuts.  Lots and lots of nuts and therefore lots and lots of squirrels (and deer but that’s for another story from this park naturalist).   This year is a high cycle year so all the oaks, hickories, and beech trees in my backyard were groaning under the weight of the nuts they bore.  And have now loosed them upon every surface available, turning every spare inch into a prickly hulled,DSCN4046 brown blanket or a mosaic of shiny hard bits and pieces of acorns to go along with the prickly hulls of the beech nut.  Of course the green golf balls of the black walnut are dropping too, sounding like hail during the worst of storms.

And my dogs hate this.

I don’t blame them.  Those prickly little bits and pieces hurt the pads of their paws, jagged hulls of shells courtesy of sharp squirrel teeth are just the right size to work themselves between the pads and wedging themselves firmly to great pain and discomfort.  No amount of sweeping is stopping the tide.  It’s relentless, a constant cacophony of sound followed by a carpet of discarded husks.DSCN4053

I think most people don’t realize that nuts are cyclical.  That each year the harvest is that much greater than the year before with the various animal populations that depend upon them for food expanding along with them.   And then the year that follows the one with the biggest yield is all but barren.  No nuts, or at least very little.  People start reporting seeing skinny or starving animals.  And they reason that such a thing helps to keep populations down.  And certainly that is true for the present day.  But not always.

Did you know people once saw seas of squirrels as they migrated through?

Yes, Eastern gray squirrels used to migrate, following the cycles of the oaks, and hickories and other nut bearing trees.  Back when the midwestern and eastern forests were one contiguous mass of forest.  Back before we started to carve out our settlements, and farms and cities. Back when there were only small farmsteads and villages that dotted the forests, tiny punctuation marks of humanity.

Then the animals lived much different lives than they do today.

One of my college professors,  Dr. Vagn Flyger wrote a report for the University of Maryland on a squirrel migration as recent as 1968.  Oh, how he loved squirrels and imparted that love to his students!  And this recent migration, from Vermont to Georgia, fascinated him.  You can read it here.  But even more fascinating are the earlier account of waves of squirrels so massive that it took days before the end of the hoard could be seen.  Or as Robert Kennicott in his article “The Quadrupeds of Illinois” in The Annual Report of the Commissioner of gray squirrelPatents for 1846 stated  “it took a month for the mess of squirrels to pass through the area.”*

Just imagine what that must have looked like! Tens of thousands, perhaps millions of squirrels following the wild harvest through the vast forest of the midwest and east, flowing like a grey furred river, leaping and bounding over every surface as they passed their way through the immediate area.   Here is another quote (from that  *same article ):

*In 1811, Charles Joseph Labrobe wrote in The Rambler in North America of a vast squirrel migration that autumn in Ohio: “A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some great and universal impulse, which none can know but the Spirit that gave them being, left their reckless and gambolling life, and their ancient places of retreat in the north, and were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands in a deep and sober phalanx to the South …”

No longer.

We still have them migrate occasionally.  The last reported one was likely 1998 in Arkansas but nothing like the vast migrations of the past.  And how can they with no massive forest or massive stands of trees, following the bounty of nuts and seeds as the cycles demanded?  Like the beaver before them, we have changed their natural history and lost something special in return.

Now the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is regarded as a cute backyard dweller or bird seed eating pest.  They get into attics or gnaw on wires.  We are amused by them, infuriated by them, and in some cases regarding bird feeders outsmarted by them.  They throw nuts at my dogs and tease them unmercifully and I laugh, of course.  They are a constant in my yard and a source of food for my owls and hawks.  They are as familiar to me as my wrens and woodpeckers…and my life would be poorer without them.

But once they moved across the land in rivers of energy and gray fur, millions of them covering the landscape and making people stop in their tracks, marveling to see such a sight.  Just once I wish I could have been there, standing beside those folks so I too could have said “and then I saw a sea of squirrels…”.

The Migration of the Grey Squirrels

by William Howitt

When in my youth I traveled
Throughout each north country,
Many a strange thing did I hear,
And many a strange thing to see.

But nothing was there pleased me more
Than when, in autumn brown,
I came, in the depths of the pathless woods,
To the grey squirrels’ town.

There were hundreds that in the hollow boles
Of the old, old trees did dwell,
And laid up store, hard by their door,
Of the sweet mast as it fell.

But soon the hungry wild swine came,
And with thievish snouts dug up
Their buried treasure, and left them not
So much as an acorn cup.

Then did they chatter in angry mood,
And one and all decree,
Into the forests of rich stone-pine
Over hill and dale to flee.

Over hill and dale, over hill and dale,
For many a league they went,
Like a troop of undaunted travelers
Governed by one consent.

But the hawk and the eagle, and peering owl,
Did dreadfully pursue;
When lo! to cut off their pilgrimage,
A broad stream lay in view.

But then did each wondrous creature show
His cunning and bravery;
With a piece of the pine-bark in his mouth,
Unto the stream came he;

And boldly his little bark he launched,
Without the least delay;
His busy tail was his upright sail,
And he merrily steered away.

Never was there a lovelier sight
Than that grey squirrels’ fleet;
And with anxious eyes I watched to see
What fortune it would meet.

Soon had they reached the rough mild-stream,
And ever and anon
I grieved to behold some bark wrecked,
And its little steersman gone.

But the main fleet stoutly held across;
I saw them leap to shore;
They entered the woods with a cry of joy,
For their perilous march was o’er.

Now for the Week Ahead in Reviews (and  Autumn Sedum in my garden):DSCN4051

Monday, Sept. 30:         Sonata by A.F. Henley

Tuesday, Oct. 1:              September Summary of Reviews

Wed., October 2:            Goblins by Melanie Tushmore

Thurs., October 3:         Dominant Predator by S.A. McAuley

Friday, October 4:         The Isle of Wishes by Sue Brown

Sat., October 5:               Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb