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Book Review: Fierce Cowboy Wolf, by Kait Ballenger

I won a copy of Kait Ballenger‘s Fierce Cowboy Wolf.

fierce cowboy wolf cover

She’s all he wanted, but was unable to claim…until now.

Sierra Cavanaugh has worked her whole life to become the first female elite warrior in Grey Wolf history. With her nomination finally put forward, all she needs is the pack council’s approval. But those stuffy old wolves refuse to elect her unless she finds herself a mate.

Packmaster Maverick Grey was reconciled to spending the rest of his life alone. Now, upon entering into treaty renegotiations with the other Seven Range clans, he needs the elite warrior vacancy filled—and fast. If Sierra needs a mate, this is his chance to claim her. But Sierra has an agenda of her own for their union, and they’ll need to work together against the assassin intent on barring the deal. For these two rivals, the only thing more dangerous than fighting the enemy at their backs is battling the war of seduction building between them…

my review

*Mild spoiler warning*

I’m very middle of the road on how I feel about this book. There were some things I liked a lot, some things I didn’t like at all, some things I thought I’d hate that turned out to be appreciable instead, and some things I thought I’d love but Ballenger managed to sully. That’s a mixed bag of feelings not easy to get on paper.

I guess the best I can do is take them one at a time, even if some of them overlap. I liked Sierra a lot. I liked that she was independent, forward thinking, and willing to pursue her own desires. I like watching strong men realize a woman is their emotional salvation, as Maverick eventually did. It’s one of those ‘Yes, it’s problematic but it ticks my sexy buttons’ sort of things. I liked that the sex didn’t get all dominant and submissive, undermining Sierra’s right to her strength, as was really popular in romance for a while.

I disliked that, even if Ballenger was willing to set aside many of the icky tropes so common in romance, she wasn’t willing to set aside the expectation of virginity one. She did try to give reasons Sierra was still a virgin well past the age one would expect it. But it still felt like a ‘qualifier of female purity’ line that she wasn’t willing to cross.

And as this plot point played out, it came to a scene where Sierra embarrassingly admitted her virginity to Maverick and asked him to teach her to pleasure a man. And I wanted to DNF the book right there. I thought, “Shit, she’s going to play the ingénue (which doesn’t fit her character at all) and I’m going to have to sit through all the trainee sex while Maverick goes all alpha dominant in the bedroom and teaches her about her own body.” I hate that. But Ballenger surprised me. She didn’t take the well worn and predictable path. Instead, Maverick refused and Sierra stepped up and negotiated for her desires. She knew her body, knew what she wanted, and refused to be denied her just rewards. I liked this.

I liked that throughout the book Sierra championed for women’s rights and Maverick was in support of them. I disliked that when he finally managed to push through all the equal rights changes the pack needed to bring them into the modern age, it was described through Sierra’s thoughts as:

Sierra cradled the pile of papers in her hands, staring down at them in awe before she glanced back up at him, tears pouring down her face. He’d done it. He’d placed her wants, her needs, and desires before all other duty and kept his promise.

I mean, woo-hoo for social equality. But I’d have appreciated if he’d passed all the reforms because he thought it was best for the pack or believed in them himself. Instead, he just gave his wife what she wanted in order to get her to forgive him for a past transgression. It seriously undermined the validity of the changes, or at least his deserved virtue for making them.

I liked that Sierra stood up for the idea of women being more than breeders and put her career first. But I disliked that Ballenger then ended the book with her pregnant, which back-pedaled the idea entirely. Sierra can claim she and women are good for more than popping out babies, but apparently the reader can’t be trusted to recognize a happy ending if it doesn’t involve said babies.

I liked the easily readable writing. But I grew to hate the “cowboy” and “warrior” titles. It felt really REALLY forced, frequently dropped in whenever Ballenger wanted to evoke the ascetic of a cowboy but too often not actually relevant to the scene. Here’s an example:

Her own eyes flashed to her wolf as she bared her teeth and let out a snarl of her own. She wasn’t intimidated by him in the least. “This is my fight. Not yours. Cowboy or not, you’re not leaving me standing here in you dust as you ride off into the fucking sunset. We do this together or don’t do this at all.”

The problem is that this was a scene where they’d just discovered who the villain was and he’d instructed another wolf to protect her while he went to kill the bad guy. What does that have to do with cowboy? “Pack-leader or not” would have fit the context, “Alpha wolf or not” would have made sense, even “Husband or not” would have matched the scene. But cowboy didn’t. I can’t even make the reference to riding into the sunset bring it into relevance.

And this happened over and over again, “cowboy” being dropped in to remind the reader that Maverick is apparently a cowboy (as if the constant readjusting of Stetsons or mention of cowboy boots or ranch-work wasn’t enough). And maybe it wasn’t, since what Maverick was was a werewolf pack-leader who owned a ranch. Giving him the cowboy title too and trying to make it dominant felt like Ballenger was sticking a name-tag to his chest and kept instructing the reader to look at it instead of the actual character development. What it felt like was that Ballenger had a note to remind herself to drop the word in every 25 pages or so to make the title of the book relevant. Similarly, Maverick’s random use of “warrior” to address Sierra lost meaning after a while.

All in all, the mixed feelings on this book drops it right in the middle of liked and disliked for me. This was the first Ballenger book I’ve read (which means I’ve not read the rest of this series, despite this being a 4th book). I think I’ll give her another change, gather a little more data before I decide how I feel about her books in general.

fierce cowboy wolf cover


Other Reviews:

Fierce Cowboy Wolf (Seven Range Shifters)by Kait Ballenger-review

Review: Fierce Cowboy Wolf by Kait Ballenger

Legend of All Wolves Series

Series Reviews: The Legend of All Wolves #1-5, by Maria Vale

I picked up a copy of Maria Vale‘s The Last Wolf when it was a freebie last year. When I finished it I bought a copy of A Wolf Apart and requested paperback copies of Forever Wolf and Season of the Wolf from the library. Then, I got impatient. So, I canceled that request and borrowed the e-copy of Forever Wolf through Hoopla (which I had to read on my phone) and Season of the Wolf from Netgalley. Then, almost two years later, Wolf in the Shadows finally came out and I requested it from Netgalley too. However, I’ve opted to keep it’s review with the rest of the series, rather than give it it’s own post. So, I came back here and added it.


Description: The last Wolf

For three days out of thirty, when the moon is full and her law is iron, the Great North Pack must be wild.

If she returns to her Pack, the stranger will die.
But if she stays…


Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of her Pack’s social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn’t all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves…

Review:

I absolutely loved this. I’ve now bought the next one and requested the rest from the library so that I can finish the series. I did think a few important moments (like a pretty major betrayal) were glossed over, but I also understand that that wasn’t really what the book was about. It also ended a bit abruptly. But on the whole, I loved both Ti and Silver. I loved Vale’s take on werewolves in general and I simply laughed and went “awwww” too many times to count. All without ever becoming overly sappy. I can’t wait for more.


Description: A Wolf Apart

When the Great North Pack is on the verge of falling apart, Pack wolf Elijah Sorensson wants to give up on his successful life in the human world to return home. But the Alpha says no—Elijah must continue to play his role to protect the Pack from those who want to destroy it.

Knowing he needs strength by his side, he seeks out human Thea Villalobos, a woman he’s admired from the moment he met her. He hopes she can help him break through his human shell before the ailing wolf inside him dies, and before the Pack is betrayed again. But can Thea accept who and what Elijah really is?

Review:

By the end, I liked this book. But I despaired in the beginning. I can honestly say I flat out disliked the first third. In the beginning, before Elijah found Thea, the book is just so god awful full of derision of women I didn’t even want to continue. I understood that the author wanted to show Elijah’s contempt for humans and that since he tried to fill the emptiness in his soul with sex it was women he mostly engaged with. So, it’s not really misogyny on his part. But I wouldn’t swear it isn’t on the author’s part. Why do authors keep writing women like this? The unrelentingness of it grates. There is no variety or humanity in any of the women Elijah encounters. They’re all silicone-filled, money-hungry, informal prostitutes. Maybe not getting paid but still having sex in exchange for gifts or power. Every damn one.

Eventually, that petered out (thank god) and I liked Elijah and Thea. I even liked them together. However, I couldn’t tell you what their relationship was built on. Elijah just kind of decides she’s the one, out of nowhere, and they run with it. I liked it, but I can’t think too deeply about it or it crumbles. I still want to continue with the series and can’t wait to get my hands on books 3 and 4.


Description: Forever Wolf

Born with one blue eye and one green, Eyulf was abandoned as an infant and has never understood why, or what he is…Varya is fiercely loyal to the Great North Pack, which took her in when she was a teenager. While out on patrol, Varya finds Eyulf wounded and starving and saves his life, at great risk to her own.

Legend says his eyes portend the end of the world…or perhaps, the beginning…

With old and new enemies threatening the Great North, Varya knows as soon as she sees his eyes that she must keep Eyulf hidden away from the superstitious wolves who would doom them both. Until the day they must fight to the death for the Pack’s survival, side by side and heart to heart…

Review:

We were back in the Homelands for this one and I think that’s just how I like this series. I like all the wolfy behaviors and customs. My reaction to the couple is mixed though. I didn’t feel I got to know him anywhere near enough and, while I liked her, I don’t understand why she fell so hard for him so quickly, other than being another arctic wolf (and ‘I like you just because you’re the same race as me’ seems a squinky basis for a relationship). Having said that, I liked the book but was disappointed in the ending. It makes sense and wasn’t hard to see coming, but it’s a happy ending with a heavy dose of sad.


Description: Season of the Wolf

In a world of danger and uncertainty, the Alpha has enough to worry about without him…

For Alpha Evie Kitwanasdottir, things are never easy. The Great North Pack has just survived a deadly attack. Evie is determined to do whatever is necessary to keep her Pack safe, especially from the four Shifters who are their prisoners.

Constantine lost his parents and his humanity on the same devastating day. He has been a thoughtless killer ever since. When Constantine is moved to live under Evie’s watchful eye, he discovers that taking directions and having a purpose are not the same thing.

Each moment spent together brings new revelations to Constantine, who begins to understand the loneliness of being Alpha. He finds strength and direction in helping Evie, but there is no room for a small love in the Pack, so Constantine must work harder than ever to prove to Evie he is capable of a love big enough for the Great North Pack itself.

Review:

I’m conflicted about how I feel about this latest volume in The Legend of All Wolves series. I liked it, don’t get me wrong. I really liked Evie and Constantine themselves and Constantine’s pining was very sweet. I liked seeing a lot of the wolves being more open and seeing some of the pack’s personalities. But the book COMPLETELY bypasses the fact that the shifters are the mortal enemies of the wolves. It was wholly unbelievable to me that they would have been so easily accepted into the pack and I had a hard time overlooking this rather large plothole. I also found Evie’s knowledge to be inconsistent. One moment she doesn’t know what a compass is, the next she’s referencing alternative dispute resolutions in a legal context.

Having said all that, I enjoy this series because of the feels. Both the ones the romance evoke and the ones the descriptions of wildlands make me experience. So, I can’t wait for there to be more. Yes, I could quibble with the fact that you’d never see the (female) mate of a male alpha trying so desperately to support them in a manner that suggested he secretly needed it, thereby undermining all the strength he’s supposed to have. I could, I certainly thought it. But I won’t.


 Description: Wolf in the Shadows

Julia Martel was once a spoiled young shifter surrounded by powerful males who shielded her from reality. Now she is a prisoner of the Great North Pack, trusted by no one and relegated to the care of the pack’s least wolf, the Omega, Arthur Graysson—the only wolf who has shown her kindness. Every day with Arthur opens Julia to the harsh wonder of Pack life and to a bond unlike any she’s ever known. But when the Pack is threatened, Julia must confront a legacy of doubt and insecurity. Only then can she lay claim to the power and fierceness that is her birthright. Only then can she protect the wolves she has grown to love. And especially Arthur, who is immensely powerful in his own quiet way.

Review:

I’m so torn about this, because I loved the rest of this series. But this last book left me pretty cold. I still enjoyed the inhumanity of the wolves, the little ones especially. I laughed a lot at just how adorable the First Shoes were. But the story and the romance…I wanted to like it. And I did appreciate watching Julia grow into herself and blossom. I did. And Arthur made my heart hurt, he was so sweet.

But the events of Wolf in the Shadows run concurrently to those of the last book. There was just so very little new here and a lot of what should have been gripping and emotionally impactful was just glossed over because they were actually the events of the last book in the series. All of which left me feeling like I was reading Julia and Arthur’s romance amongst the outline or memory-jogger of a story. Honestly, even them falling in love felt sketched out.

So, while I’m glad to have finished the series and to have spent a last night with the Great North Pack. I didn’t love the book as much as previous ones in the series.

Book Review: Boyfriend Material, by Alexis Hall

I pre-orded a copy of Boyfriend Material, by Alexis Hall. (Though it must not have been through someone participating in the pre-order swag pack because I never got the activity book. No biggy, I’m not going to complain about not getting something for free, but sad face all the same.)

 

boyfriend materialDescription from Goodreads:

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

Review:

Not my favorite Alexis Hall book, but still very sweet. I’ll start with what I liked, which was everything except for two particular things. I loved Oliver with a passion that frightens me a little. I liked Lucien fine, but Oliver shook me. I liked the supportive groups of friends who tease and mock one another. I laughed a lot. And Hall writes queer books for queer readers. In a world full of MM romance written by women for women, that’s a gift (and I say that as a woman).

The two things that held me back from giving this 5 stars were kind of amorphous. One, Hall loves himself some messy heroes. Which is fine. I like messy heroes too. But I have somewhat limited patience for them. The reason is that so often, in their mess-a-tude, they slip over into cruelty towards those who care for them and I sometimes have a hard time forgiving them for it. Luc did that here. I suppose toward the end Oliver did too. But it was Luc I had trouble forgiving because it felt like a pattern with him.

And two, while I laughed a lot, some of the characters played for humor went overboard. Most of the aristocratic characters are unbelievable buffoons. I would have liked this aspect a lot more if it had been pulled back a little bit and was a tad more believable.

All in all, I call this a success in the more general sense. I did enjoy the last half more than the first half, but on the whole, it’s a winner for me. I’ll close with a humous personal anecdote. For a while, in the beginning, I was driving myself absolutely crazy because I was certain that I remembered another of Hall’s books with an Oliver in it and thought there might be a crossover. But I couldn’t figure out which book. I suspected For Real, but it seemed unlikely that Oliver would be into BDSM. Finally, a friend (P.), who has all the book on kindle started simply opening them one by one and searching Oliver. I was just deciding that I’d made the whole thing up when she messaged me that there is in fact an Oliver in In Vino, but it’s a completely different one, no crossover. What a relief to discover, at least, that my brain didn’t just decide to make it up and taunt me with it.