The Butt Riders on The Range anthology boasts a range of authors from J.P. Barnaby to Eden Winter and Ally Blue. While a few of these authors were new to me, I relied on the bigger names in this anthology to anchor the collection. In some cases there were real wins in the 300 plus pages, in others there was definitely some disappointment.
Let me begin by saying that I never expect a story to be completely clean of typos and errors, but there were enough in this anthology and strategically placed to impact the stories overall. Also, I was surprised at the wealth of hanging story lines, with very few of these shorts being complete and with a clear HEA. Rather, there were many HFN, and even a few really unclear trajectories on how or if the men involved would last beyond a few days. All in all, I found a few of the stories confusing and others spot on.
Due to many being fairly short, a synopsis of each would, in essence, give up the entire plot line. So, rather than give a brief description of each, I am merely going to highlight the main elements that stood out in each story.
Hung Like A Horse by J.P. Barnaby, which opened the novel, was both way too short and left so many dangling elements from where her shifter horses originated, to exactly why they were afraid of being experimented on. Being dropped down in the middle of a story is a fine way to start, but only if the plot can then do some explaining about where it’s characters have been and what has happened along the way. Instead, in this brief tale we get an instant attraction between and younger and older horse shifters who are never fully fleshed out enough for the reader to care about their current situation. This piece of work was so unlike how this author normally writes that I had to check twice to make sure whose work I was reading. Rating: 2 stars
Kage Allen’s story, Chinchilla Chimichangas, was a real attempt at tongue in cheek humor with a young man closing a chapter on his life by making the journey to scatter his father’s ashes. Stranded after a major storm hits, preventing the bus he is on from traveling further, he meets a young man who is the epitome of the character he has been writing about in his western work in progress. However, along with his narration of events, there are two old biddies who are also characters in his novel who continually give him advice and a little bit of hell as well. All three jump back and forth commenting on most everything our main guy does. This is where the novel literally lost me. With three characters all intervening and discussing every action our MC took, the story often drifted and became really confusing. The best part of this longer story was when the two old women went blessedly silent and the characters shared intimate discussions about themselves and how much they felt drawn to each other. In my mind, the later third of this story salvaged what was a confusing and often mean spirited conversation going on in the main character’s head most of the time. Rating: 3 stars
Squatting With Spurs by Kiernan Kelly was by far my favorite story in this anthology. Based on the premise that every forty years, a reincarnation of one of a pair of cowboy lovers who steps back in time to reconnect with his lover, this story was both tender and fascinating. Definitely different in tone and style from the others, this love story was handled with a gentle hand and I instantly fell in love with both these MCs. From the start it was a given that nothing would change the fate of these two who would be doomed to repeat that moment when one did not know the other until they were together in the flesh again by use of a timepiece that enabled the modern day reincarnate to return to his partner in the previous century. This story was handled so well, and while the themes were pure fantasy, I found myself riveted to the sweet characters that inhabited this delightful tale. Rating: 4.5 stars
Faux Cowboy by Shae Connor started off with an interesting premise and an immediate hookup between two men both feeling out of their depth. Both had come from the west, but one had never farmed in his life and the other had left the farm many years before. Both men played at being cowboys only to discover by accident that both had kept the real truth from the other. This was a very fast story with a HFN that really didn’t ring true. I wanted to believe that after one night these two had found a real connection, but since most of it was based on lies that were rapidly divulged and then swept away, it was hard to come to terms with the idea that they could trust each other so quickly after. Rating: 3 stars
Hooves and Horns by Eden Winters proves that bull and horse shifters don’t mix, at least according to their family. Kerry walked away from the bull he loved several months before due to Armando’s family hating anyone who was not bull shifting material. But Armand is back on the circuit and trying to convince Kerry there was no cheating and he’d finally found the strength to stand up to his family. In other words, he was back for Kerry. This short takes place in one day and centers on Armando’s attempts to convince Kerry that he is still in love with him and never cheated on him, even though it looked quite the opposite. Full of heat and sex, it was a quick and clever tale of love winning over all. Rating: 4 stars
The Boy from Battalion Bluff by Jevocas Green: I am not really sure what I read just now. This was an odd mix of sci-fi and fantasy featuring beings from another planet, ménage, and voyeurism taken to the next level. I had a really difficult time with this story as it presented more like erotica than anything else. Little plot, lots of sex, and just a bit of weirdness thrown in. Definitely unusual. Rating: 1.5 stars
The Five Hells War by Ally Blue was another favorite of mine. Set in a futuristic world where a breed of cattle was so sought after that one corporation was buying up every locally owned farm, the story settles on the last man to hold out against big business. When the lawyer is sent to inform the owner he is being taken to court, the tables are turned and the man finds himself enthralled, not only with the planet but the owner himself. Ally Blue excels at writing new worlds and inhabiting them with fascinating people and this short story proves once again what a master she is at doing just that. Rating: 5 stars
The final story, And The Horse He Rode In On by T.C. Blue was perhaps the most complete and in depth when it came to fleshing out characters fully. When our MC finally figures out what is killing his sheep, he is surprised to meet a man who is completely in the dark about the hierarchy of the shifter world, mainly due to the fact that he was turned and not born a predator. The two come to trust one another in time and that leads to an ultimate act of trust that is hard won and amusing to watch. The characters were sweet and interesting, the dialogue crisp and clever and the story most entertaining! Rating: 4.5 stars