Review Repost: Strength of the Pack (The Tameness of the Wolf #1) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Strength of the PackAt a time when tales of the Human Dominant and his True Alpha Shifter have been consigned to myth, along comes human Marine Lt. Lucas Young.  As he readies his command of mixed human and shifters for their deployment to Afghanistan,  he is assigned True Alpha pack leader Sargent Noah Hammond to his platoon. From the beginning, Lucas and Noah circle around each other, Noah pressing for dominance and control while Lucas is equally determined that his authority and rank be recognized and respected by the True Alpha. Small skirmishes and exercises bring human and shifter together in an ever strengthening bond as Lucas learns to dominate Noah and understand the ways of the Pack.

Once their platoon has landed in Afghanistan, they find themselves under fire, and the wartime stresses find their bond deepening and getting stronger with each trial and success. Soon the pair are mirroring the legendary bonding of Dominant and True Alpha from ancient lore. But the bonding is incomplete and when one is wounded, can misunderstandings and military regulations be overcome in time to save them both?

It has been a while since a new shifter book blew me away.  Strength of the Pack has done that job and then some.  McKenna gives us an alternative world where shifters and humans have been together for millennia and throughout much of history.  But through human rewriting, their place in our history has been purposely obscured. Now, because of some unmentioned war or occurrence, shifters are now partnering with humans in all aspects of life, including the military.  McKenna gives us just enough back history to whip up a thirst for more while still making her current setting feel realistic and well thought out.  Little by little, McKenna delivers glimpses of this magical back history, reinterpreting such legends as Joan of Arc and Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

McKenna’s world building is a wonder with no element left to chance.  We are given pack hierarchy, which is folded  into Army and Marine structure in such a way as to feel utterly real and authentic in every detail.  She has a way of describing army life as lived while deployed that I wondered if she was a Reservist or active in the military.  From their packs to their guns, to the dust and heat of the land they are bivouacked on, it felt as though you were there with them, close to the insurgents and ambushes.  It just rang true, right down to how the Pack reacts after skirmishing with the enemy.

And that brings me to another aspect of this book that I loved, the natural history of the wolf.  Unlike other shifter stories, here the wolf shifters act like wolves, including their rank and status within the pack and how it regulates their behavior to one another.  While I enjoy seeing different authors take on shifters, as a park naturalist I love seeing an author who gets the science right, especially where natural history is concerned. Kudos to McKenna for that lovely take on wolf shifters and shifter society.  She also opens up for an explosion of options in the books to come.  I can’t say more without giving away some of the plot but oh my, what possibilities could be in store for us in the books ahead.

Kendall McKenna’s characters are worthy of such marvelous world building too.  I loved the reserved nature of Lt. Lucas Young.  He is brilliant, concerned about regulations and the safety of those under his command.  There are so many levels to this man and they are slowly peeled away as he  realizes that he is not prepared to handle the presence of either a True Alpha or shifters in his platoon.  The decisions he makes (and we are inside his mind as he makes them) paint a portrait of a man, honest to his true nature with the capacity to grow with the challenges before him. Lucas is matched up with the indomitable True Alpha, Noah Hammond, a nordic warrior shifter.  This is not a cardboard hero but again a being adjusting to a bond thought unheard of and having his own problems with it.  McKenna has made Hammond vulnerable, at least to Lucas, a necessary facet of his personality if we are to believe their bond to be true.  This will be one of my favorite new pairs of the year.  The needs of the wolf for taste, touch, smell and markings deliver sensual scene after sensual scene as Lucas and Noah adapt to each other and their needs.

This book is 336 pages long and felt like 90.  I got to the end and wailed because I wanted much, much more.  I have so many questions for McKenna.  Has the government been working to find this combination again?  When did the shifters come forward again?  And what happens to Tim Madison?  Consider my feet stamped in frustration.  Lucky for all of us, this is just the beginning.  I hope the series is a long one.  But either way, long or short, I can’t wait for the next installment in The Tameness of the Wolf.  Go get your copy and let’s start this journey together.  I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

Stunning cover art by  Jared Rackler

It’s Contest Time! The Release of Strength of the Wolf by Kendall McKenna is Almost Here!

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Note: This event has been postponed until Monday, Sept. 9.

Good morning, everyone!  I have several great announcements to make today.  On September 6th, Friday, the long awaited sequel to Kendall McKenna’s Strength of the Pack releases from MLR Press and to celebrate, Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is hosting a two – part guest blog by Kendall McKenna as well as a two- book contest/giveaway.

On Thursday,  Part 1 of Kendall McKenna’s blog will be posted as well as kick off the first book giveaway.  For those of you new to Kendall McKenna, she is one of my absolute must have authors.  Her stories include some of the most authentic, gritty military characters in recent memory, so realistic that she has garnered the approval of soldiers who have read her books and commented on her remarkable details and knowledge of the military universe.  In this series, The Tameness of the Wolf,  Kendall McKenna gives us a new  twist on wolfshifters. In her stories, the wolfshifters and the military work together in special units, each with their own commander.  It is a new arrangement and not without its own unique issues and misunderstandings.  I love the way her universe combines the boredom and terror that goes hand in hand with combat units abroad with the supernatural element of wolf shifters with their pack rules and hierarchy.  It’s amazing and compelling.

The first book in the series, Strength of the Pack (The Tameness of the Wolf #1), revolves around the dynamic relationship between  Lt.. Lucas Young and the True Alpha pack leader Sargent Noah Hammond, who has just  transferred into his platoon.  We watch as they first establish a working relationship and then a personal one, a bond steeped in myth and old legends.  It’s raw, primal, disciplined and oh so real.

There is a power and strength to McKenna’s characters equal to the intensity of the military actions and battles the platoons and soldiers find themselves in.  McKenna’s wolfshifters have a true primal feel to their characters, you never forget the animalistic behaviors  exhibited are their true natures, not ones they assumed.  The author’s Marines exude the  military discipline and attitudes  that Marine training and experience have ingrained in them.  These are not characters easily forgotten.

That first story earned a 5 – star rating and a multitude of fans.  And now finally we get a sequel.  The wait is almost over. So here is the schedule for Kendall  McKenna’s guest blog and book contests.  All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of each days blog, its that easy.  So mark your calendars and join us for a 4 day celebration of Kendall McKenna’s The Tameness of the Wolf series and new book release.

Thurs., Sept. 5:  9/9  Kendall McKenna Guest Blog Part 1 – Start of contest
Fri., Sept.6:         9/10 ,Repost of The Strength of the Pack review
Sat.,Sept 7:          9/12Kendall McKenna Guest Blog Part 2,winner of 1st book announced, start contest for 2nd book
Mon., Sept 9:    9/14  Review of The Strength of the Wolf and Winner of Strength of the Wolf announced

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Strength of the Pack

Review of Gregori’s Ghost by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars

Gregori's GhostDr. Steven Russell’s grandfather, Charlie,  is dying. And in his pain, Charlie keeps calling out two mens names, that of Gregori and Alexi.  When Steven asks who those men are Charlie begins to tell his grandson a story, one he has never heard before, that of Charlie’s time in the Army in WWII. Charlie tells Steven that when he meet a Ukrainian war photographer, his live divided into two parts, that of “before Gregori and after Gregori”. Charlie tells Steven a horrific story of a mass execution that Gregori photographed and asks Steven to bring Gregori’s old camera to him in the hospital.  Charlie also gets Steven to promise to find  Alexi, Gregori’s grandson and make sure he is safe.  But when Steven returns to the hospital with the camera, his grandfather has already died and Steven has a promise to keep.

But there is so much more going on than just a promise.  When Steven pulled out the camera from its storage place, he noticed its mint condition and looked into the lens.  To his utter astonishment, he sees exactly what Gregori saw that day in the Katyn Forest when over 23,000 people were slaughtered and dumped in a mass burial to be hidden.  Steven can smell the oder of the guns and feel the cold creep into his bones.  Looking into the camera, he is there with Gregori as it happens.  And then Gregory and Charlie start to speak to him and tell Steven that he has to help Alexi right the wrongs and save the spirits of the two old men.

All his life, Steven has lead a self indulgent, golden life.  Now to honor his  promise to Charlie, he must leave it all behind to go to the Ukraine to find Alexi Temchanko  a Ukrainian journalist investigating the old crime.  While they have never met, they have talked on the phone, and the attraction Steven feels for the journalist is unsettling as is the fact that Gregori is still speaking to him, telling him that time is running out and Alexi is in danger.  There are people all around them trying to stop the truth from coming out.  Will Steven get to Alexi in time to save him and honor his promise to the ghosts of two men depending upon him as well?

Gregori’s Ghost is a wonder of a story on so many levels.  We have an historical element based on fact, that of Katyn massacre, a mass execution of Polish citizens in 1940.  Then around this monstrous crime Black builds a tale of family, obligation, honor and love.  Sarah Black is an expert on old men, as crazy as that sounds.  She knows how they sound and how they move and her characters resonate with authenticity of age and knowledge, how I loved Gregori and Charlie. But  Steven Russell is something of a new character for her.  He is a “golden boy”, a neurologist who is emotionally removed from everyone around him with the exception of his grandfather, who sees the true Steven.  He is a bit of a cad, taking from lovers and never giving of himself.  But Black takes this unlovable character and makes him grow and discard his shallow lifestyle to carry out his grandfather’s wishes. But there is no personality transplant but a realistic difficult change that Steven has to undergo.  It is just so very well done that I came to like Steven by the end of the story.  But Gregori’s Ghost is peopled with characters you will come to love and entrust with your affections, including Gregori and Charlie, the two entwined men who start it all.

On top of her characterizations, Sarah Black gives us a mystical element, that of the ghosts or spirits of Gregori and Charlie who continue to talk or berate Steven into action.  The author gives her ghosts as many layers as her living persons, right down to their sexuality as well.  Gregori finds himself tempted by the gorgeous Steven and gives in to their mutual sexual needs in several stirring scenes.  How you feel about the supernatural might dictate what you feel about this part of the book, but I ask  you to just go with it because the end is worth it all.

But most impressive is that Gregori’s Ghost is so different in that her traditional love of the land is missing here. Unlike all her other books where the characters are as wedded to the land as they are to each other, here the landscape is reduced to a minor supporting role.  Instead of the land being the characters foundation, it is each other that provides the emotional and mental support they need to go forward.  With the exception of Steven, Alexi, Gregori, and Charlie are men who by their nature and the circumstances they find themselves in, are men pared down to their core.  In pain, dying, they still act with honor and determination, something Steven learns along the way.  Like I said , a remarkable book.  Now this great book is free at All Romance Books.  Find it here and download it for free.  Run, don’t walk to the nearest computer and get it.  I hope you will love it as much as I do.  And while you are there, pick up some other Sarah Black books, starting with Marathon Cowboys. You will want them all.

Author Spotlight: Sarah Black

 

The Legend of the Apache Kid by Sarah Black , review here

Marathon Cowboys by Sarah Black, review here

Review of Peace in the Valley by Jana Denardo

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Rating: 4.5 stars

DSP Evergreen Cover for 2012John and Anthony have a tough time making time for each other, especially at this time of the year.  Not only do both men work in emergency services, John as a EMT and Anthony as a nurse, but they also are members of the local Search and Rescue outfit.  But their roles in Search and Rescue make them one unique couple with John as the S&R handler for his “dog” Sir Barksalot who just happens to be Anthony, a wolf shifter. The holidays always bring crazy demands on their time, from people lost on the slopes to a full ER.  But they have been lovers for a long time and know how special it is to make time for each other in their special valley.

I loved this short story written for Dreamspinner’s Evergreen Advent Month.  Jana Denardo captures beautifully the portrait of a couple who have been together long enough that they mesh in that special way only committed partners do.  That one partner happens to be a wolf shifter and Native American adds spice to the relationship but never takes the focus off the love John and Anthony have for each other.  There are some very cute scenes in which  John interacts with his rescue “dog” during training and Anthony’s comments about his love for liver treats.  We also get to see them as an established couple at Christmastime with John’s large Italian family who clearly see Anthony as they would any of their children’s spouses, a very nice touch.

Peace in the Valley gives us tender moments in the lives of John and Anthony, the drama of a rescue and some hot sex too, all nicely wrapped up in 39 pages.  Another don’t miss for the holiday season.  Lovely.

Review of Word Play – A Story Orgy Anthology

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Rating: 4 stars

Word Play is the first collection by a wonderful group of authors who post serial stories under the collective name Story Orgy.  Lee Brazil, Em Woods, J. R. Boyd, Havan Fellows, and Hank Edwards give us novella length stories of love and relationships from the first throes of passion and discovery to an old loves lost and then renewed.

Harper’s Discovery by Em Woods is the story of Harper Evans journey from betrayed boyfriend to a man happy with a new love and  new life as Pitt’s sub with some remarkable stops along the way.

Wicked Reflections by Hank Edwards is a supernatural mystery story that will keep you on edge even as our hero finds time for romance.

Harlan’s Ryde by Havan Fellows brings us the story of Ryder and Harlan’s last chance at love after Ryder threw it away in a moment of insecurity and self destruction.

Off The Beaten Path by J. R. Boyd shows us best friends Mitch Sterling and Colby Merritt on a jaunt in the country that brings them revelations about their  relationship and their sexuality.

The Park At Sunrise by Lee Brazil is a heart wrenching story of love lost and those left behind.  What happens when a threesome is reduced to two? Can a love survive the loss of a partner?

This is a remarkable collection of stories by a group of authors I have come to admire.  Their Story Orgy Mondays was my first introduction to all of them.  I eagerly awaited for Monday to come around so I could see a new installment on stories I was following from each author as they linked  all their stories together.  Follow one, follow them all.  So imagine my joy when I found out that they were publishing their stories in one volume (now several) so I could have them at my finger tips at a moments notice.  And what a diverse group of stories these are.  A real smorgasbord of love from every angle and a couple of kinks.  And while I enjoyed them all, I will admit to having some favorites.

Harper’s Discovery by Em Woods introduces us to Harper Evans just as he is dumping his cheating boyfriend, a long overdue event as far as Pitt Mullen is concerned.  Pitts has been waiting for Harper to get up his resolve and get rid of someone not worthy of him.  Of course, Pitt is ready to step in and make Harper his own in every way, including being the submissive to his Dom.  As someone not in the lifestyle, I have no idea whether their D/s relationship is accurate but I do know that the men come across as real people trying to find a base upon which to build a mutually satisfactory relationship, one that includes love and respect.  Add to this a side story involving a young man in need of a kidney transplant and you have a story you will love even if D/s is not your typical read.

Wicked Reflections by Hank Edwards was one story that should not be read at bedtime.  He kept me up all night with nightmares reliving scenes from this book.  When Kirk Stanford moves into his new house, the real estate agent had left some things out before selling the house to Kirk, including the fact that the previous owner was murdered upstairs in the master bathroom.  Now ghostly warnings appear written on the steamed surface of the mirror in the bathroom.  And different men start to enter Kirk’s life from Alan, his new neighbor next door, Lance Hawthorne, a detective looking into the death of the previous owner, and Damon Swain, a local librarian helping Kirk research his new residence.  Little by little, scene by scene Hank Edwards starts ramping up the anxiety level of the reader as more facts are revealed about Kirk’s new house, as more warnings are left by the ghost, and everyone becomes a possible suspect.  Like Kirk, you have no idea who to trust, and who will turn out to be the bad guy.  And those last pages? Had me biting my nails and making sure my doors and windows were locked. Edwards keeps all the balls up in the air as he juggles his thriller scenario with hot sexy scenes between Kirk and his new acquaintenances.  Kirk is a bit of a slut which just gives us another dimension to his character.  You will love this story, the plot will make you scream.  Just read it during the daylight hours, ok?

Harlan’s Ryde by Havan Fellows.  OK, I just loved this story.  It has it all.  Humor, great characterizations and two great sequels.  This is the first in the Synchronous Seductions Trilogy.  Read my review of all three here.

Off The Beaten Path by J. R. Boyd is a wonderful story of two friends and business partners realizing that they have come to mean much more to each other than they have admitted to.  One day Colby Merritt and Mitch Sterling take a drive to scope out new projects/jobs for their landscaping business.  Friends for 24 years, a chance dip in a pond on a hot Texas day gives Colby the opportunity to show Mitch how he has always felt about him and what better time than when both are half naked and dripping wet.  Boyd’s vivid descriptions makes us feel that hot Texas heat and the delights of a summer pond.  Then give us two old friends who have buried their attraction to each other in the name of that friendship and the moment explodes with sexual fireworks and revelations of long hidden sexuality.  Did I say hot?  Hot on every level.  A coming out story done with humor and heat, what’s not to love?

The Park At Sunset by Lee Brazil.  Heartbreaking, just heartbreaking, but in a wonderful way.  This story will resonate with anyone with a lost love in their past.  Thirty two year old Morgan shows up at the bench by the beach and is overwhelmed by memories of a love he had lost.  Joining him is Jason, an artist and his former lover.  Jason sent Mason a painting that has brought them back together after a long separation.  The cause? The death of their lover, Paul.  They were once of happy threesome but the loss of one has meant the loss of all.  Now sitting on a bench on a beach full of memories, they relive their past, examine their present lives in hopes of finding a way back to each other.  Brazil makes their pain palpable, their loss of  Paul and each other gut wrenching as their emotions flow and the memories of what was lost comes back.  These men touch us in every way.  We identify with them and their have our complete empathy.  And when the story comes to an end, you will be smiling through tears at a love reclaimed.

Don’t pass this anthology by.  If you are unfamiliar with these authors, it is a great introduction.  If you love their works, read these stories and remember why.

Cover artist Victoria Miller has created a hot sexy cover for Word Play.  Great design with easily read fonts. Great job.

Available through Breathless Press , Amazon, and All Romance eBooks.