Review: Pack Business (Pine Hollow Wolves #2) by Caitlin Ricci

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Rating: 3.75 stars

Pack BusinessShifter Liam, human Travis and his daughter Hannah are still trying to settle into the new living arrangement as one happy family.  Liam adores Hannah and is quickly falling in love with Travis, the man he rescued from living on the streets, along with his daughter.  Travis too finds himself falling for the shifter with the icy blue eyes who protects them both so lovingly and is paying for him to attend university.  But trouble is brewing from within Liam’s back and Hannah, the 2 year old human is the focus of all the discord.

Hannah can see all the shifters in their true form and calls them all “puppies” because that is what she sees when she looks at them.  And that can be a problem when you are trying to hide from the human society you live in.  Plus there is that all bogeyman tale of human Hunters that could see the shifters in their human form and know they were wolves.  The pack is not ready to find out whether it is truth or fairy tale, they just want the little girl dealt with.  Can their new family succeed and thrive when all around them want the family broken apart and the child to disappear?

Pack Business is a continuation of the Pine Hollow Wolves series started with Almost Paradise. The story begins 6 months after the end of Almost Paradise.  Liam, Travis, and Hannah are living together in Liam’s house with his two Mastiffs, Lucy and Ethel.  They are really starting to feel as though they are a family, and adorable Hannah is the child that Liam never thought he would have as a gay man and shifter.  Travis has started back at school, and everyone is happy, mostly.

Ricci’s wonderful characters that drew me in to  start with are all back and flourishing.  I fell in love with Liam, Travis and Hannah immediately and became invested in their future so I was very excited to see where the story is going.  Liam’s pack is an interesting one where the Alpha is almost two wolves, powerful twin brother and sister who also happen to be African American, a rarity within the shifter universe.  Samson and Evangeline are two strong characters that you want more of, including their backstory, especially Evangeline.  I love Evangeline.  She is strong, charismatic and independent and her brother, the Alpha, loves her and depends on her judgement and strength.  Less is known about her brother but I believe that is intentional.  At least I hope so because i can see glimpses of Samson that just cry out for his own story.

Pack Business also starts to address the fact that Hannah can “see” the true wolf form of every shifter she meets when they are in their human shape.  How do you explain to other people when a 2 year old continues to call you “puppy”?  Staying hidden is to be achieved at all costs and to some that cost is Hannah’s life.  Additionally, Ricci introduces a shifter legend or their own version of a Grimm fairy tale in which long ago there was a group of humans called Hunters who possessed the ability to identify a shifter on sight. These Hunters used their ability to kill every shifter they found.  But as the author tells it, not even the shifters are sure if this is fact or fiction.  With each new element, Ricci ups the anxiety and uncertainty about Liam and Travis’s ability to keep Hannah safe and happy.

I really love this series but recognize that there are several aspects that will not set well with other readers.  One is the fact that if you have not read the first book in the series, not much of this story will make sense,  In fact , Pack Business has more the feel of a really long chapter than a separate book on its own.  To be a satisfying read that deserves a four star rating, this book should be folded in right after Almost Paradise, and read together.  Then it makes sense and becomes an even more compelling read.

Another is that the wolf shifters here are of the I Dream of Jeannie school of shifters.  Blink, they are human, blink and they are wolves sort of thing.  I will admit to a certain niggling little sarcastic voice in the back of my head that goes “Really? And their clothes reassemble too?” I like this story enough to kind of overlook this but I will admit to preferring the more sensible bone jarring, skin stretching, more realistic form of shifting.  It just is more agreeable to the naturalist in me.

I find the Pine Hollow Wolves series to be so captivating, so full of promising glimpses into future stories, that I am willing to shove my quibbles with the books into the background.  I want to see what happens with Hannah and her gift/curse.  Are Hunters in fact, real? And is Hannah is a Hunter, what will happen when a Hunter is raised by a wolf pack?  This element just cries out for a YA book, don’t you think?  With Hannah as the heroine?  And there is Liam ready to leave the pack and his financial security for Travis and Hannah.  And Evangeline, with her divided loyalties?  I can go on and hope that Caitlin Ricci does so as well, while answering all the questions that keep popping into my mind.

This is a short book, only 110 pages and it cries out for a much longer length.  But I will take a sequel no matter how long or short it may be.  I am now fully invested in these characters and their future.  I need to know what happens to them and that is wonderful story telling.

Lee Tiffin is the cover artist and this cover is just as adorable as the family pictured.  It works both as a cover for this book and to brand the series.

Books in the Pine Hollow Wolves series in the order they were written and should be read, one immediately after the other:

Almost Paradise (Pine Hollow Wolves #1)

Pack Business (Pine Hollow Wolves #2)

Review of Cherish (Faith, Love & Devotion #4) by Tere Michaels

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Rating: 4.5 stars

It has taken several years, 5 to be exact, for New York City Vice Detective Evan Cerelli, his four children, and former Homicide Detective Matt Haight to come together as a couple and as a family.  And for the most part they have made it without the emotional fireworks and mental turmoil that marked the first year of their relationship.

Now Even is going to be promoted to Captain of his precinct, the first out gay captain on the force, Matt is a successful security advisor when he is not a wonderful house husband to the two kids, twins Danny and Elizabeth, still at home.  Katie and Miranda are off at college, and their friends seem happy.  Life is good.

But Thanksgiving is coming and bringing with it the family explosions they thought they had left in the past. When Evan accidentally learns his oldest daughter, Miranda, is thinking of getting married to her boyfriend of less than 3 months, he flies off in a rage and is met with equal anger from Miranda who still has problems accepting her father’s relationship with Matt. A temporary truce between them sees Evan inviting Miranda’s new boyfriend and his parents to Evan and Matt’s house for Thanksgiving.  Also coming for Thanksgiving is Helena, Evan’s partner on the force and her boyfriend, Shane, and second oldest daughter, Katie, who “wouldn’t miss the fireworks for anything.”

And before the turkey is even on the table,  emotional explosions are going off and everyone is included.  Matt and Evan first have to survive Thanksgiving with their family and friends, and each minute more is making that unlikely.

This is the fourth book in the Faith, Love & Devotion series by Tere Michaels and it is a series close to my heart.  We first met  Matt and Evan in the first book Faith & Fidelity, at the angst ridden beginnings of their relationship.  Then Evan was mourning the loss of his beloved wife and first and only person he has ever slept with.  In addition to his grief, he was trying to do his job as a police officer and fill in the void for his four kids left behind when his wife died.  Evan is full of pain, grief and overburdened by stress and doubts about his ability to  be a good father and step up to the plate.  Matt is a complete mess when the reader and Evan first encounter him.  Forced to resign from the police force he loves over behavior issues, he has become a bitter, disillusioned drunk, getting by as a security cop and on anonymous sex with women. But a conversation in a bar and the exchange of personal confidences leads to an unlikely friendship that eventually turns into a shattering love affair that forces each man to rethink his sexuality and  their acceptance of the fact that they love each other.  It is a tough road for Evan and Matt, especially Evan, who has the reactions of his children, former inlaws and police force to think about.

One of the things I cherish about this series is that Tere Michaels lets us in on the emotional fallout and oscillating feelings, including bouts of denial, that come with identity earthquakes. By that I mean the paradigm shifts that occur within a person when the most basic self knowledge is proven wrong.  And being gay or bisexual is a major shift for them both.  The author lets their relationship play out, not over one book but four stories, including this one.  The Evan/Matt relationship here is the strongest it has ever been (and that’s saying something) but even here it has its shaky moments, most of which come from the stress brought on by Miranda. Let me tell you, there are many times that I am as frustrated with Miranda as everyone else in her family.  I don’t like her behavior and think that Evan needs to get a grip when dealing with her.  But does that sound like I think of them as characters?  No it does not.  And that’s the beauty of these stories and these amazing characters, they might make you gnash your teeth and pull some hair, but they are never anything less than believable.

Michaels also takes into account how much alike fathers and their daughters can be as Evan and Miranda’s behavior is often a reflection of each other.  Matt too has aged and grown into his role as caregiver/second father to at least 3 of the kids, and his growth is as realistic and wry as can be.  Tere Michaels has a wonderful grip on relationship dynamics, not only between romantic partners but familial relationships too.  Siblings squabbles,  family arguments, and the small joys of an established bond are all found here in this latest addition to the series.

I also loved that it takes place over Thanksgiving and includes the family of Miranda’s boyfriend, which adds that unknown element so often present at Thanksgiving when multiple family groups, including strangers, are brought together and forced to engage each other on the most intimate of  American celebrations, the Thanksgiving dinner.  Expectations are perhaps unreasonably high for what we think this holiday with its traditions of being grateful and giving thanks will bring.  And that stress alone has blown up more turkeys than any fryer on the market. I will tell you that all ends well, at least temporarily for this wonderful family I have become so fond of.  If you are familiar with this story, you will love Cherish as I did.  If this series is new to you,  don’t start here.  Go back to the beginning to where it all started.  It makes the place they are at now all the more precious and rewarding.

And Tere Michaels?  I need more of another favorite couple here, that would be Jim and Griffon from Love & Loyalty (Faith, Love & Devotion #2).  Pretty please?  That would be a great Christmas gift for us all.

Here are the books in the series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the history and couples involved:

Faith & Fidelity (Faith, Love, & Devotion, #1)

Love & Loyalty (Faith, Love, & Devotion, #2)

Duty & Devotion (Faith, Love, & Devotion, #3)

Cherish (Faith, Love, & Devotion, #4)

Cover art by Croco Designs.  The covers for this series are just average.  They really don’t relate to the stories within nor do they make any real attempt to have models that look like the characters. Grade C

Books available at Loose id, Amazon, and All Romance.