Things have cooled off for the Boston North pack. Kyle is still the lowest ranked wolf; still mated with Tobais, the Alpha; and still having odd epiphanies about what to say or how to act despite being the newest werewolf. Fitting into his role is coming somewhat easier, though it still rankles that were-culture devalues him for just about everything that makes Kyle…well, Kyle. And above all that, his relationship with Tobias is as strong as ever. It is, in fact, one of the reasons Tobias wants Kyle to attend the regional meeting of all alphas in the Northeast. This annual meeting will name the Boston North pack as being officially autonomous with Tobias as the alpha. Tobias also plans to officially claim Kyle as his mate. All in all, the trip should be validating for Kyle and Tobias as werewolves and as mates. Kyle would also have the opportunity to see his family one last time before severing immediate ties on account of being a werewolf.
All those plans soon get tainted with worry and fear when one of their own pack mates gets attacked close to home. Things kick into high gear when Kyle himself encounters Melia, an old enemy running from a death sentence for her role in transforming Kyle, right in his backyard. For better or worse, Tobias decides to include a few other wolves on the trip to the annual meeting, all to keep their enemies’ eyes focused in one place…on Tobias and Kyle. There should be safety in number. But at the meeting, things take a dangerous turn. Suddenly, Tobias and Kyle’s trip goes from inconvenienced by extra attendees to outright dangerous. Even if Tobias and Kyle survive, they will have deep emotional wounds that might tear them apart.
Veggie Burgers to Go is the second book in the Real Werewolves Don’t Eat Meat series by author Karenna Colcroft. It was previously published under the same title in 2012 with a different publisher. The events take place a few months after the first book, Salad on the Side. This version also includes a previously released short Christmas-themed story called Tofurkey and Yams (this review is only for the main story).
I remember feeling a bit frustrated about the world building in the first book. It felt like the purpose of the book was to show how werewolf culture and Kyle were diametrically opposed on every last element of culture, lifestyle, and personal freedom. I was a bit cautious in my expectations for the second book. However, I was pleasantly surprised that there seemed to be far less fronting of Kyle’s every last contentious thought about werewolf culture and how he fit into it. He was clearly still frustrated by how backwards many of the customs and traditions felt to him and even disgusted when he learned many other packs were even more regressive. However, I perceived growth in him as a character given that he picks and chooses a lot of his battles now. He seemed especially wary of acting out of line during the regional meeting lest he draw unwanted attention on Tobias or give credence to the widely held belief that an alpha having a mate, and especially a same-sex mate, make the alpha less qualified to lead. All of which is to say that Kyle is still experiencing and coping with a lot of the same discrimination that was foisted on him in the first book, but I didn’t feel like enumerating every last difference was the whole purpose of the book.
Now, the really good stuff. To be blunt, I was engrossed in this story. I found myself randomly contemplating where the characters and the plot was going throughout my day. I really loved how Kyle’s ability to just know werewolf stuff helps advance the plot. Then there’s the fact that Kyle can completely resist being compelled by anyone, including his own lover and alpha, Tobias. Kyle keeps this information close to the chest, but both Tobias and the arkhon know. Many times, Kyle reminds himself that he’s not weak despite being the lowest ranking wolf in his pack. He’s low ranked because, as a pacifist, he refuses to fight for more status. He’s still considered dominant. And the one time in this book he shifts from human to werewolf, when he shifts back into his human form, it seemed to happen a lot more easily than it had in the past. All these tantalizing facts have me guessing where Kyle is going in this series.
The romance between Kyle and Tobias is very present on page. There are multiple intimate scenes in a variety of settings and for a variety of reasons. I thought it was wonderful that these two are not afraid of saying “I love you” to one another. What was interesting is how much Kyle is able to access Tobias’ power through their mate bond. It helps him defend himself early in the book when Melia makes an appearance. In addition to Kyle being able to tap into Tobias’ power, they can obviously share their thoughts and feelings. When Tobias officially claims Kyle as his mate before the entire assembly of alphas from the Northeast, Kyle notices their bond sort of envelops them. It sounded like it would be unbreakable. Yet after the major fight in the book, Kyle finds himself in a super dark place and it has an extremely strong effect on the bond. Also, earlier in the book, Tobias was seething with anger after Saul very publicly and very loudly slandered Tobias and Kyle’s mate bond. Back in the privacy of their own room, Tobias seeks an outlet and unfortunately, he almost finds one in Kyle. Content warning: Tobias comes close to raping his mate. The bond I think was at least partially responsible for Tobias being able to contain his rage.
Another aspect of Kyle and Tobias’ relationship that I found fascinating was how they deal with being frustrated with one another. The most extreme examples are mentioned above (a near-rape and a near-severing of the mate bond). But there are so many situations where Tobias and Kyle are at loggerheads. Instead of staying in one another’s company and escalating words to the point of risking saying something they would regret, one or the other of them will physically leave the room to calm down. It just seems like this doesn’t happen in many of the books I read; normally someone capitulates, or drops a verbal hand grenade before running away. It seems like these two are solid enough (usually) to walk away, calm down, then discuss the contentious matter more calmly later.
In addition to all that, there’s still the excitement of knowing some alphas at the meeting are really not supportive of Tobias. Some don’t like that he’s gay, some don’t think he’s fit to be alpha. All this negativity is focused in the character Saul. Though he’s only on page for a few brief scenes, his presence and his hatred are never far from the main characters. Coupled with Kyle’s sixth sense for detecting trouble, it made this part of the plot unfold like a thriller. I kept hoping something would happen that would launch Kyle into some exalted status, even if that seems a pretty enormous stretch of the imagination for this world. Instead, I was wondering when Saul would make his move. And when he did, the fallout was fraught with pain. Physical pain because Tobias got very injured. Emotional pain because Kyle overanalyzed his (in)actions and always landed on the worst interpretation of the events. The main confrontation neatly wrapped up Melia’s role, but left Saul’s open to probably be addressed in future installments.
Overall, I enjoyed this installment of Real Wolves Don’t Eat Meat tremendously. I really enjoy the Tobias/Kyle relationship. Their dynamic has ebbs and flows, but proves time and again enough to sustain them…they just might need some reminders they don’t have to go it alone now and then. If you liked the first book, then I think you’ll really enjoy how things develop in this second installment. Fans of shifter/werewolf stories will probably enjoy the detailed world Colcroft has built (werewolf bureaucracy, who knew?). Fans of established couples will also like seeing how the MCs relationship continues to shift and grow even when facing significant obstacles and setbacks.