Rating: 4 stars
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The Big Bone Lick Pack anthology by Kendall McKenna, Jambrea Jo Jones, and Cherie Noel brings us three shifter stories each taking place around Big Bone Lick State Park and centering around the members of the local wolf pack. Unlike most anthologies, the stories are linked by more than just a theme. Instead, they feature a shared world and characters that appear in each other’s stories. It is an unusual set up, and one that I really liked as it not only makes for a cohesive anthology, but also allows us to see the various characters interact and plot elements cross from one story to another.
The anthology is also a great fit for Men in Uniform Week. In addition to the fact that these guys are all shifters, almost all of them wear some sort of uniform as well. We meet two cops, a Marine, a doctor, and a nurse over the course of the anthology. So it is a fun collection, both for those that like shifters as well as those who are fans of men in uniform.
I did notice a couple areas that were issues across the anthology. First, I think we needed a little bit more of a foundation in the world building. For example, there is never really any clear explanation of human awareness of shifters and how they exist together. It seems pretty clear that at least some humans know about shifters. But from the first story we know that not all do. Some characters accept them as a given, and others are surprised, and we have no idea why. Just a few small bits of background would have added a lot to the clarity of the world these authors have created. I also noticed that two of the anthologies suffered from the same issue of plot elements that are introduced but that never go anywhere. It happens a bit in the first (though there is sort of a reason we never get a full resolution) but it is a really obvious problem in the second two stories. I am not sure if the collaborative nature of the anthology played a role, but it was a noticeable issue. But overall I enjoyed the stories and found it a fun anthology.
Devil Dog and Bad Wolf by Kendall McKenna
Seth Price is on leave from the Marines and seeking a little peace and quiet by camping alone in Big Bone Lick State Park. He chose the place on a dare from his brother Chad, who believes that there are werewolves in the woods, and Seth is camping there to prove him wrong. But there ends up being a bigger danger than wolves in the park, and Seth is viciously attacked by a grizzly bear who almost kills him. Fortunately, pack alpha Sergeant Asa Wilde is running in the park at the time and comes to his rescue. Thanks to him and some other pack members who are also nearby, they just manage to save Seth and get him help.
Asa finds that he doesn’t want to leave Seth, even once his family comes to help take care of him. It is becoming increasingly clear to Asa that the human Seth is his mate. Asa doesn’t like the idea of fate determining who should be his mate, but he can’t deny the strong feelings he has for Seth and the way he is drawn to the man. And it is clear that Seth feels a growing connection to Asa as well. Asa also worries because Seth is clearly a nonbeliever in werewolves and wonders how the man will take the news that Asa is a wolf. Not to mention that Seth has a life in the military and a family in Florida and picking up to move to Boone Country is not an easy decision. But the more time the men spend together, the more they realize that they don’t want to ever be apart.
This story was a great start to the anthology, introducing us to both Seth and Asa, as well as to other members of the pack and the town. We get a good feel for Seth as a competent military man who is facing the difficulty of healing from his terrible injuries, and Asa as the calm and soothing presence in his life. I liked that we see a connection between these two men from the start, but at the same time, their relationship grows over time rather than instantly being madly in love. It is a nice combination of the fated mate werewolf lore with a real developing relationship. There were a few times I felt the story drifted into a little too much military or cop jargon unnecessarily. And the story was missing a bit of energy for me. Perhaps as the lead off story there was too much background information required. But overall this is a sweet story and a great way to introduce the pack and the town.
The Big Bad Bear by Jambrea Jo Jones
Deputy Kane Farkas has been sent into Big Bone Lick State Park to track down a grizzly bear that attacked a camper. They need to find the bear and figure out why it attacked. When Kane stumbles upon a badly crashed motorcycle, he realizes the bear is actually a shifter who is confused after his accident. Kane knows he must find the man, whose ID lists him as Dov Barrett of Indiana, and get him to shift so that he can heal and regain his mental faculties.
When Kane finds Dov, both men instantly recognize one another as mates. Kane finally gets Dov to shift and begin healing, but the man refuses to go to the doctor. Instead, Kane brings him to his house where the two can’t help but act on the pull of their mating bond. It all seems so sudden, and both men are a little freaked out this dramatic change in their lives, but they also can’t deny the power of their feelings. Kane still needs to figure out exactly what caused Dov’s accident, worried perhaps that it was an intentional attack. Now that he has found his mate, there is no way he is losing him.
This story picks up a plot thread from the first in the anthology about the bear that attacked Seth. We learn more about what happened during the attack and that Dov was confused and disoriented with no idea what he was doing. I found Dov an entertaining character, so well embodying the bear side of him. He is huge and hairy and sort of lumbering and playful. I loved an early scene where he meets Kane in bear form and just wants to play and enjoy his mate. Kane is a likable guy too, much younger than Dov, but also strong and able to take care of himself and Dov when needed.
So this one is pretty much as instalove as you can get. From the minute these guys meet they recognize one another as mates and are practically in heat for the entire book. Within a few hours of meeting they have bonded, claimed one another, and are making plans for Dov to move to Kentucky to be with Kane. So there is no relationship development here, we are full on fated mates with total intensity. That said, it didn’t bother me a bit here. I think you just need to go with it to enjoy this story and I was able to just roll with these guys. Part of it is that they are just fun together. I liked them and wanted them happy and enjoyed their great chemistry.
What the story was lacking for me was much in the way of real conflict. A few things are tossed out along the way but none of them develop. The first issue is what caused Dov’s accident. There is some indication it may have been foul play and multiple clues are dropped but then it turns out to amount to nothing. We learn Dov is scared of doctors, and then we see him have some serious dizzy spells but he won’t go get checked out. It seems to be leading to some sort of health risk, but nothing materializes. So there are several plot threads that get brought up but never go anywhere, and the story pretty much boils down to two guys meeting, realizing they are mates, and having sex.
All that said, I still really enjoyed this one. It is sexy and fun, Dov and Kane are both likable, and it is just a sweet and sexy little treat.
Shifty Fox Shenanigans by Cherie Noel
Simon Vacchio is a nurse in a Boone County hospital. He works long hours and always seems to be the one to take on extra shifts to help out his coworkers. Simon doesn’t have much time to himself or much social life, so when he literally runs into a handsome doctor one day on his shift, he is definitely caught off guard.
Dr. Josiah Swift recognizes Simon is some sort of shifter as soon as they meet, but he is not clear exactly what. Josiah also quickly recognizes that Simon is his mate, though since Simon apparently doesn’t know he is a shifter, he is certainly not ready for that news. Josiah hasn’t been much a part of his pack in years. As an Omega, he always felt out of place and he has sort of been going his own way for a while. But the other pack members are making it clear that Josiah needs to return to the fold or risk becoming a lone wolf. And now that Josiah knows he has a mate, he is definitely not letting that happen.
The attraction between the men is strong, and their first date just proves their connection. But Simon is going to shift as soon as the men mate for the first time, which means he has to not only learn that he is a shifter, but that he and Josiah are destined for one another.
This was a cute story and I liked both Simon and Josiah. The story connects well with the other two as Josiah is part of the larger wolf pack and Simon is a nurse who helped to treat Seth in the first story. They both have interesting back stories, though I wish they had been explored in more depth. Josiah grew up as part of the pack, but has drifted away since he was in school. He feels awkward about his role as Omega and the fact that he has the lowest status out of the pack. I think some more detail here as to the significance of this would have helped so we understood why it kept Josiah away from the pack. I also would have like more understanding about what it would mean if become a lone wolf since that was mentioned a couple of times. But it was an interesting element to his character to see him as someone not so involved in his pack until having a mate lures him back to the group. There are some nice moments with Josiah and his parents, and I liked seeing his passion for gardening the arboretum where he works.
Simon is a foster kid so he grew up not knowing his parents (and thus not knowing he was a shifter). He is also a different type of shifter than the others we met in that he has his first shift as an adult upon mating, rather than younger like the others. There are some issues here that felt undeveloped however. First off, we learn that Simon had a friend Mona in foster care, and there seems to be some dark issues there. He is upset when he thinks about her, but this plot thread never goes anywhere. We never learn about their history, why it is upsetting for Simon, or anything else about it. It is just brought up a few times as if there is a big reveal coming, and then nothing. There is also a recurring issue with one of Simon’s coworkers, a man named Ryan who seems to be pestering him and causing trouble. He seems to be homophobic, but maybe hiding his own sexuality. And he catches Simon and Josiah kissing, and maybe that will be an issue. He is definitely portrayed as a potential problem and it comes up multiple times, and again it seems like something should be happening here, but then nothing results from it. As a third example, at one point Simon is stuck by a needle, and there is the natural concern for his health and a filing of reports at the hospital. But again, nothing ever comes of this either. I just found it somewhat frustrating to have all these loose ends where issues are brought up as potential conflicts and then nothing happens and they are never resolved.
I had a few other small issues. The author had a tendency to repeat descriptions multiple times over a short period, such as the fact that one of Simon’s coworkers smells like Nivea lotion. That, along with a name switch and some typos (Josiah’s mom has “a few hints of sliver” in her hair), made me think this story needed some better editing to clean it up. So I didn’t find this one quite as compelling as the other two, but I thought it was a nice story and it worked well with the rest of the anthology.