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Saturday, January 31, 2015


Author:  Paige Tyler
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence3-4; Sensuality4; Humor—2 
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Casablanca 
   1     Hungry Like the Wolf (1/2015)
   1.5  "Before Xander Met Khaki" (free on-line short story)
   2     Wolf Trouble (8/2015)
   3     In the Company of Wolves (12/2015) 
   4     To Love a Wolf (6/2016)
   5     Wolf Unleashed (12/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 2/6/2017 to include a review of Wolf Unleashed, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first four novels. 

                           NOVEL 5:  Wolf Unleashed                           
     SHE BRINGS OUT THE WOLF IN HIM: Lacey Barton can't deny her crazy attraction to Alex Trevino, but that doesn't mean she has time for the gorgeous SWAT officer. She's hell-bent on discovering who's behind the brutal dogfights sending countless mauled animals to her veterinarian office. The trail leads Lacey to a ring of vicious drug dealers and suddenly she's in way over her head―right smack in the middle of a SWAT stakeout.

     With Lacey in danger, Alex's wolf side is unleashed. But when she witnesses Alex shift, she's even more terrified... Now it's up to Alex to crack the case―and earn back Lacey's trust and, ultimately, her heart. 

     Alex and Lacey's love story progresses along the same general path as the relationships in books one and four. Each of those heroines is human, so when she falls in love with a handsome, muscular SWAT guy and then discovers he is a werewolf, there's lots of shock and awe and denial and tears before acceptance and passion save the day.

     In the action plot, the SWAT team is assisting the Dallas PD's narcotics division in catching the bad guys who are distributing a powerful hallucinogenic drug called fireball on the city streets. Additionally, someone is running a dog-fighting ring that is leaving behind dead and near-dead dogs. The author takes these two criminal activities and looselyreally, really looselystitches them into a main plot that doesn't fit together very well. Mainly, Tyler uses the dog-fight story line to introduce her romantic leads to one another. Their initial meeting comes when Alex takes his rescue dog to the vetwho turns out to be a gorgeous woman named Lacey Barton. Then, both of them get involved in shutting down the dog-fighting ring. Unfortunately, Lacey has more than her share of TSTL moments as she sneaks around a few junkyards in the middle of the night trying to collect evidence and barely escaping with her life.

     Tyler's most egregious plot inconsistency occurs when Alex memorizes the scent of one of the bad guys and then fails to scent him even though he is within mere yards of the guy in a tense situation that comes midway through the book. I'm sure that Tyler backed herself into a corner on this one because she needed this particular bad guy in the early scene but had to keep Alex from realizing who he is until a critical scene that comes near the end of the book. Tyler doesn't even try to explain how Alex could have missed the guy's scent the first time around. It's a rookie slip-up for an experienced writer to make. 

     Two new characters (based on real-life friends of the author) are introduced in this novel and will appear in a future book: Season and Allen are beta werewolves who move to Dallas with their band to escape from werewolf-hating hunters. The hunters' activities appear to be spreading around the country, so the Dallas SWAT guys are on high alert for any anti-werewolf activity in Dallas.

     Also, the mystery surrounding the medical examiner, Samantha Mills, increases as she appears to know more then she is supposed to about the SWAT team's genetic heritage, even though she never mentions it and carefully leaves critical information out of her official reports to protect the SWAT team's secrets. It looks as if Samantha might be "The One" for Trey Duncan, but we'll just have to wait and see how this situation develops.

     Although this novel follows the same general formula as previous books, it is weaker because of its wonky plot structure and because Tyler makes Lacey such a wuss of a heroine. Lacey discovers that her new boyfriend is a werewolf the hard waywhen he explodes into a furry mass of claws and fangs. Oddly, Tyler seems to belittle Lacey's response to this violent revelation, which is to back away, run off as fast as she can, and then cut off all communications (until she needs Alex's help in finding her kidnapped sister). Alex comes off as a 100% hero, with no criticism at all for for not letting Lacey in on his wolfy secret before he sleeps with her and for his inability to understand why Lacey thinks that he is a monster. (Duh! Because the fur, fangs, claws, and growls scared her to death!)

     Basically, though, if you enjoyed the other novels in the series, you'll probably like this one as well. Just be aware that this book has problems that are absent from the previous books. Click HERE to go to the page for Wolf Unleashed where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Wolf Unleashed is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own.

     The series is set in Dallas, Texas, and revolves around the police department's SWAT unit, all of whom are wolf shifters. Of course, no one knows that they are werewolves, and they work hard to keep that a deep, dark secret. In this mythology, there are three types of werewolves: 
  > Alphas: big, strong, fast, and in control of their beasts.
  > Betas: smaller, less strong, and not as fast as alphas, but with much stronger pack instincts
  > Omegas: dangerous loner wolves who are as big and strong as alphas, but who have no social skills and little control.

     All of the team members are alphasa highly unusual circumstance—and they are led by an über-alpha, Gage Dixon. When Gage took over Dallas SWAT ten years ago, he systematically built the unit by bringing in werewolves from police departments all over the country to replace the humans on the original team. Many of them have military experience, and all of them "looked as if they should each have their own month in the Hot Cops of the Dallas Police Department calendar." (Hungry Like the Wolf, p. 15).

     In this mythology, people don't become werewolves by being bitten. Certain people are born with something in their DNA that remains dormant until they find themselves in a high-stress, life-threatening situation. That experience triggers the supernatural part of their DNA, and if they survive, they become werewolves. Unlike the werewolves of other mythologies, these shifters don't have any connection to the moon. They can shifteither wholly or partiallyat will.

     This is a traditional paranormal romance series with each hunky SWAT guy finding "The One"his soul mate. As the series begins, most of them believe that finding "The One" is just an urban legend and that they are doomed to be alone forever. When Gage finds his One, though, the others begin to hope that they, too, will find their true loves. In Tyler's Acknowledgements, she says that she prefers eroticism to story elements, so take that as a clue to what you'll be reading in this series. 

     Click HERE to go to Tyler's "Men of SWAT" page on her web site. Here is a list of the SWAT members who are named in the first book: 

 > Sergeant Gage Dixon: SWAT leader and pack alpha; can full-shift instantly (mates with human Mackenzie Stone in book 1)
 > Senior Corporal Xander Riggs: Assistant Squad Leader (mates with werewolf Khaki Blake in book 2): strategic analyst
 > Officer Eric Becker: computers and surveillance (mates with werewolf Jayna Winston in book 3)
 > Officer Landry Cooper: explosives and demolition; can full-shift instantly; has highly developed werewolf instincts (mates with human Everly Danu in book 4)
 Officer Alex Trevino: sniper; medic (mates with human Lacey Barton in book 5)
 Senior Corporal Michael Taylor: Assistant Squad Leader
 > Senior Corporal Zane Kendrick: hostage negotiator; entry specialist
 > Senior Corporal Trevor McCall: crisis negotiator; senior armorer; entry
 > Senior Corporal Trey Duncan: medic; entry specialist
 > Senior Corporal Jayden Brooks: specialist in less lethal techniques; entry; can full-shift instantly
 > Senior Corporal Carter Nelson: explosives and demolition; assistant armorer
 > Officer Diego Martinez: hostage negotiator; less lethal techniques; entry
 > Officer Hale Delaney: less lethal techniques (martial arts specialist)
 > Officer Remy Boudreaux: shotgun breech specialist and assistant armorer
 > Connor Malone: sniper 
 > Officer Max Lowry: specialist in less lethal techniques; entry

     In book 3, a new pack arrives in Dallas led by Jayna Winston (Becker's
eventual mate). After a rocky start, they make friends with the SWAT group and move into a loft apartment they call the Beta house. They all work together at a horse rescue and rehabilitation center outside of Dallas:
 > Megan Dorsey, who hooks up with Zak Gibson (human best friend of Mackenzie Stone)
 > Joseph Garner, who hooks up with Everly's best friend, Mia Barlowe, in book 4
 > Chris Hughes
 > Moe Jenkins, who seems to be hooking up with Lacey's sister, Kelsey, in book 5

                          NOVEL 1:  Hungry Like a Wolf                           
     Mackenzie (Mac) Stone is a journalistnot a reporter, she insistsfor the Dallas Daily Star, and she believes that she has uncovered a great story. Mac is sure that the muscular SWAT officers can't possibly be as squeaky clean as they seem to be. Everyone in the city, from ordinary citizens to high-powered politicians, praises them to the skies. They have a perfect mission record and never seem to make any mistakes. Mac doesn't believe that any group of cops can be that perfect without some cover-ups, and she is determined to dig in and discover the truth. Recently, Mac interviewed a low-life criminal who claimed that one of the SWAT guys lifted him up several feet in the air, held him there for several minutes, and then scratched his chest with claw-like fingernails. Since the thug weighs over 300 pounds, this seems impossible, unless the cop was on steroids. So…maybe that's their secret vice. For days, Mac and her photographer, Zak Gibson, have been spying on SWAThiding out in their unmarked van and watching for incriminating activities. So far, Mac has found nothing, but that just makes her more determined than ever.

     Gage and his men have formed a true werewolf packloyal to one another to the death. They have dedicated their lives to protecting the citizens of Dallas, and they go far beyond their job duties to reach out to all levels of the community. Of course, with a large group of alphas living and working together 24/7, there are frequent mano a mano episodes, both as part of their training and as offshoots of their natural alpha aggression. In addition to keeping his team trained and well equipped, Gage has to keep them as calm as possible because he can't risk any of them going wolfy in view of a human. He must also control all of his team's public appearancesincluding those on the jobso that no one sees them doing anything supernaturally strong.

     The interaction between Mac and Gage begins when Mac tries to sneak into an active SWAT operation. She puts herself and the mission at risk and reveals a lot about her own character by making her story more important than the lives of innocent hostages and the SWAT members who are trying to rescue them. I didn't really like or trust her from that point on. The underlying question about Mac's character is how far she will go to get her big story. Will she take it to the limit even if it means destroying other people's lives, including the man she claims to love?

     In the midst of the burgeoning romance between Gage and Mac, one of the SWAT cops kills one of the bad guys who was holding and murdering hostages in an early scene. That bad guy turns out to be the son of a local mob boss who immediately goes after Gage because of his position as the head of SWAT. The villain is one of those stereotypic evil creeps who scowls and threatens his way through life. We get no back-story on him; he is just a clichéd, one-note sociopath. As the story moves along, the mobster expands his vendetta against Gage to include the other SWAT members andeventuallyMac. The book ends with the usual violent showdown scene followed by an HEA for the loving couple.

     If you enjoy reading formulaic paranormal romances, you will probably enjoy this book. The romance is believable, the bedroom scenes are hot (but unoriginal), and the plot has plenty of action. The only scenes in which the pace begins to drag are the long, drawn-out scenes in which Mac tours the SWAT facility. The heroes are all nearly identical in appearance, but each has his own idiosyncrasies, so there is more character development than we usually find in genre romances. Mac is the usual beautiful, feisty heroine who proclaims her independence, but puts herself into many TSTL moments and secretly loves to be dominated. 

     As I read hard-copy books that I plan to review, I use multicolored sticky "flags" to mark various aspects of the story. Red flags indicate problems, and I had a number of them in this book, two within the first three pages. Those early flags were for third-grade-level grammar/usage errors. On the very first page, Gage "grit his teeth…," but the sentence is written in the past tense, so the correct verb would be "gritted." On page 3, Gage talks with his "weapon's expert." "Weapon's" (with the apostrophe) is a possessive noun, and that is clearly not the correct usage in this sentence; no comma is needed. Other red flags related to a major improbability in the plot that involves night vision goggles. I just can't believe that Gage and his team would make such a rookie mistake when they are so careful to keep their supernatural powers a secret. Since this is Mac's major clue to anomalies within SWAT, that leaves the entire plot on shaky ground. Finally, two scenes just don't ring true at all: the early scene when Mac tries to sneak into the building in which the killers are holding their hostages (even an over-zealous reporter/journalist can't be that stupid), and the scene near the end when Mac goes to Zak for counsel but fails to tell him the specifics of what is bothering her. That entire conversation seems highly unlikely to me, more like an authorial manipulation than believable human behavior.

     Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Hungry Like a WolfClick HERE to go to the book's page where you can read or listen to the book's Prologue and the first chapter in full. Click on the cover art for a print version or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

                          NOVEL 2:  Wolf Trouble                           

     He's in trouble with a capital T
! There's never been a female on the Dallas SWAT team and Senior Corporal Xander Riggs prefers it that way. The elite pack of alpha male wolfshifters is no place for a woman. But Khaki Blake is no ordinary woman. 

When Khaki walks through the door attractive as hell and smelling like heaven, Xander doesn't know what the heck to do. Worse, she's put under his command and Xander's protective instincts go on high alert. When things start heating up both on and off the clock, it's almost impossible to keep their heads in the game and their hands off each other. 


     As soon as Khaki arrives at Dallas SWAT headquarters, she and Xander are hit with a huge dose of mating pheromones. Neither can stop thinking about the other, but they can't follow through on their sexy urges because of the departmental rules against romantic involvement with a fellow officernot to mention that Xander is Khaki's squad leader. In order to keep his attraction to Khaki under control, Xander treats her harshly and unsympathetically, so she initially believes that he doesn't like her. Adding to the complexity of their romance problems is the on-and-off presence of Khaki's ex-boyfriend, an arrogant, egotistical jerk who refuses to accept the fact that Khaki dumped him back when they were both police officers in small-town Lakefront, Washington. 

     This novel's primary action plot is thinner than the first one. Basically, what we get for the most part is a series of brief, unconnected missions alternating with lengthy angst-filled interior monologues by the two horny, wannabe lovers. The action scenes serve mostly to give Khaki a chance to show off her newly developed SWAT skills. Beginning in chapter 7, Tyler introduces a more complex plot line involving a series of bank robberies with resolution coming in a major showdown scene near the end of the book. 

     The early chapters follow Khaki as she easily achieves perfect marks in her SWAT training andunbelievablyis rated field-ready by the end of her first week. Her special werewolf skill is her encyclopedic memory of scents, which (inevitably) comes in quite handy during one of her first missions. Her sole problem is thatsince she is a brand new werewolfshe hasn't yet learned to shift. When she goes to Xander for assistance with shifting, the heat between them bursts into flames, leading to Xander's realization that Khaki is his "One." Once they realize that they are truly soul mates, they try to keep their secret from Gage and the rest of their team. Khaki turns out to be a smart and skilled heroine, but she does make one unfortunate TSTL move late in the story. Why is it always the woman who goes off by herself and gets in big trouble? It would be refreshing ifjust onceone of the heroes did that and then was rescued by his mate.

     The two most improbable elements in the book are Khaki's improbably quick training period and the fact that the SWAT shifters had no idea that female werewolves existed. Otherwise, this is an entertaining paranormal romance that fits right into the sexy, steamy center of that genre. Both the hero and the heroine are well-developed characters, and the boys-will-be-boys antics of the SWAT team members are always entertaining.

     Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Wolf Trouble that includes the scene in which Xander reacts to his first glimpse (and sniff) of Khaki. Click HERE to go to the book's page where you can read or listen to the book's Prologue, during which Khaki has a near-death experience and begins her change into a werewolf, and chapter 1, in which Gage and Xander are informed by their boss that they must add a woman to their team. Click on the cover art for a print version or on the "Listen" icon for audio. 

                        NOVEL 3:  In the Company of Wolves                           
     There's a new gang of criminals in town who are organized and ruthless in the extreme. When Eric Becker, along with the rest of the Dallas SWAT team, ends up in the middle of a shootout, he immediately senses werewolves—a lot of them. Turns out, the new bad guys are a pack of wolf shifters. 

     In a spray of gunfire, Becker comes face-to-face with the most gorgeous woman he's ever seen. Becker does the logical thing. He hides her and leaves the scene with the rest of his team. 

     Jayna Winston has no idea why that SWAT guy helped her, but she's glad he did. Ever since she and her pack mates got mixed up with those Eastern European mobsters, everything had pretty much fallen apart. 

     So what's a street-savvy thief like Jayna going to do with a hot alpha-male wolf who's a police officer?

     In this book, Tyler sets her story away from SWAT team headquarters, so, for the most part, only two SWAT members are featured in the plot: Eric Becker and his best friend, Landry Cooper. Some of the others turn up at the edges of a scene or two, but this book doesn't have the good-old-boy sardonic dialogue and locker-room shenanigans that we saw in the first two books. The emphasis is more on the lead couple, and it's a nice change.

     So...What happens when a SWAT team member meets "The One" in the middle of an active crime scene shoot-out—and she is one of the criminals? That is exactly what Eric Becker has to figure out after he impulsively hides Jayna—the soul mate in question—in a perfume-doused crate just moments after meeting her, thus protecting her from being injured in the ongoing gun battle and preventing her from being captured by his fellow SWAT team members. Luckily for Jayna, Eric's quick actions keep her safe, and she is able to escape after the battle.

     Within days, Eric has used his computer hacking skills to locate Jayna, only to learn that her pack leader, Liam, has dragged his small pack into an Albanian mobster's clutches. Jayna and her four pack mates would love to escape, but they are all betas, which means that they are very submissive and are too closely connected to their pack leader to leave his side. Adding even more danger to the situation is the fact that the Albanians are determined to take over the dark side of Dallas and have pressured Liam to add some ultra-tough omegas to his team to beef up its strength so that they can commit a series of violent robberies. In this mythology, omegas are lone werewolves who have trouble controlling their violent animal instincts so their presence is a constant threat to Jayna and her pack mates. 

     Soon, Eric goes undercover without his pack leader's knowledge. He joins the Albanians and the werewolves so that he can keep Jayna and her pack mates safe. As the story plays out, distrust builds within the group: between two factions of the Albanians, between the omegas and the Albanians, and between Liam and his pack members. With the mobsters and the werewolves distracted by suspicion and intrigue, Eric and Jayna work on a scheme that they hope will end in a safe escape for Jayna and her pack mates and jail time for the bad guys. Of course, even the best-laid plans go awry, so it's no surprise that some of the good guys get hurt (some quite badly).

     For future reference, here are the names of Jayna's pack mates, who will probably be turning up in future books: Jayna's closest friend is Megan Dorsey, a petite, dark-haired, twenty-two-year-old girl (who finds her mate near the end of this book). The others are all males: "Moe Jenkins, a muscular African America kid barely out of his teens; Joseph Garner, a twenty-eight-year-old, blond, blue-eyed farm boy from the heart of the Iowa Corn Belt; and Chris Hughes, a self-proclaimed redneck from Biloxi."

     An underlying story line relates to Jayna's back-story, which is explained in the Prologue. Five years ago when Jayna was seventeen, her stepfather tried to rape her, and she stabbed him and ran away. This was the event that triggered her werewolf transition. Since then, she has been wary of male relationships—at least that's what she says. But when she meets Eric, all of her bad memories seem to disappear immediately, and she has no trouble mating with him. Although Tyler keeps reminding us in the narrative about Jayna's traumatic experience, Jayna never acts fearful about being touched and never shrinks away from contact with Eric. She does avoid contact with the sleazy Albanian mob boss who makes a play for her, but any woman would avoid that guy because he comes across as such a pervert. In other words, the whole stepfather situation seems artificial and unnecessary because it never truly plays a part in the story once you get past the prologue. 

     Eric and Jayna's romance moves along rather slowly, mostly because they are living 24/7 in a building filled with mobsters and werewolves where privacy is an impossibility. They do have a number of long conversations and lingering kisses in which they learn more about one another than is usually the case with these SWAT couples. Don't worry, though, there are several sexy bedroom scenes in which the mating is thoroughly consummated.

     This book has fewer illogical moments than the first two, and I think it's the best book in the series so far. The slow, sultry romance is nicely balanced by the wild and crazy assortment of bad guys with big guns. Click HERE to go to the book's page where you can read or listen to the book's Prologue (Jayna's back-story) and Chapter 1 (Becker and Jayna's first meeting). Just click on the cover art for a print version or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

                        NOVEL 4:  To Love a Wolf                           
    He's a werewolfShe's his mateHer family would kill to keep them apart. A wolf in Landry Cooper's position doesn't really do the dating scene. There's simply no time when he's taking out bad guys practically every day of the week. But when he meets beautiful Everly Danu during a bank robbery, he's sure she's The One for him. The problem is, she has no idea what Landry really is. And as much as he wants to trust her, he's not sure he can share his deepest secret.

     When Everly's family discovers that Landry is a werewolf, her brothers will do anything to keep them apartthey'll kill him if they have to. Everly is falling hard for the ridiculously handsome SWAT officer, and she's not about to let her father and her brothers tell her who she can love...until Landry's secret is exposed and she discovers the man she thought she knew is a monster in disguise.

     In the previous two novels, both the hero and the heroine were werewolves, but not in this story. Everly Danu is a beautiful human woman who just happens to be in a bank line with handsome, muscular Landry Cooper just at the moment that the bank gets robbed by five gun-slinging thugs. The two have just exchanged phone numbers when the first shots ring out. Naturally, the muscular Cooper jumps right in, shooting two of the robbers and throwing the other three much further than any normal human could possibly throw another human. The SWAT team's Internal Affairs nemesis, who continues to suspect that they are all on steroids, suspends Cooper and forces him to spend some time with a psychiatrist to work out his anger issues and get his head straight. Having some free time means that Cooper and Everly get together almost immediately, and handsome, muscular Cooper is soon certain that Everly is The One

     In the middle of their falling-in-love sequence, one of Cooper's former army buddies comes to town and wants to catch up. Jim is in bad shape, angry at how the army treated him and drinking so heavily that his life has fallen apart. In addition to being handsome and muscular, Cooper is empathetic, so he takes Jim under his wing and tries to help him sort out his life.

     The action part of the storythe part that involves the handsome, muscular SWAT teamcenters around a series of explosions that were set with military-grade explosives. Since Cooper is skilled with explosives, his FBI friend, Dennis, asks him to consult on the case. Eventually, disparate elements of the story meld together into a flash-bang climax that resolves this part of the plot.

     But the love story, which was going so smoothly, hits the rocks when Everly's family forbids Everly from seeing handsome, muscular Cooper ever again. Her brothers even ambush him and beat on his handsome muscles with baseball bats. I was wondering when this tropethe werewolf-hating hunterswould enter the series, and this is where it begins. Everly's reaction to learning that Cooper is a werewolf goes just about as badly as it did for Mac back in book 1: instant hysterics. But when Cooper learns the details of Everly's past, he can understand why she and her family react as they do. Will our handsome, muscular hero be able to change their minds about him? Or will he spend the rest of his life alone?

     So...did you get sick and tired of seeing the words "handsome" and "muscular" scattered throughout every paragraph in this review? Well, get used to it because that's what Tyler does all the way through this book. And it gets even more tiresome when you have to read through 300+ pages of it. I hope that someone convinces Tyler to expand her vocabulary in the next book so that she can give those two words a much-needed rest.

     This is a typical novel for the series, with a hot romance, some dangerous and suspenseful action scenes, and lots of camaraderie among the handsome, muscular SWAT guys and their friends. The next novel will feature Alex Trevino as he discovers that human veterinarian Lacey Barton is The One.

     Click HERE to go to the page for To Love a Wolf where you can read or listen to an excerpt. Just click on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio. 

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