Title: Animal Attraction 2
Publisher: Torquere Books
Genre: M/M contemporary romance, historical romance, mystery.
Length: 209 pages
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Jenre
Love animals? Love hot men who love each other? Animal Attraction 2 has all that and more. Talented authors Kiernan Kelly, Aaron Michaels, Jane Davitt, CB Potts, Julia Talbot, and Sean Michael go all out to prove that animals can bring people together, and that love can turn up in unexpected places and in unusual ways. From slow and steady to a hot, fast burn, the romance is right there for the taking, right along with the adventure.
With slithering boa constrictors, big cats, and rodeo roughstock, the stories in Animal Attraction 2 will take you from the jungles of the Amazon forest to the snow-topped mountains of Central Asia to glamorous Hollywood mansions. Racing after dangerous predators—and dangerous men—the heroes in these stories are all chasing something. Or is something always chasing them?
Normally when reading an anthology there are always one or even two stories which are either complete duds or just don’t compare favourably to the rest in the collection. One surprising and delightful find in this anthology is that all the stories were above par and I enjoyed all them a great deal. One thing I’ll mention here so that I don’t need to say anything in the story descriptions is that all the stories were very well written with great pacing, lively descriptive styles and interesting plots. Each story contains either one animal or a set of animals and I found it gratifying that, within that remit, each of these stories were different and original.
Elusive Blue by Keirnan Kelly
Paul is a sheriff in a small town which is currently been visited by a carnival. Paul is drawn time and time again to the show laid on by the stars of the carnival and mostly to the final act – the lion tamer. Paul is attracted to Max Lowe, but as he keeps his sexuality under tight control all he can do is admire him from afar until the carnival leaves. However, tragedy strikes leaving many of the carnival folk injured or worse and one of Max’s tigers loose in the countryside. Together Max and Paul set off to find Elusive before the angry townsfolk do.
When I first started reading this story I thought it was a contemporary. It didn’t take long for me to realise that some of the attitudes of the characters and the setting was rather overly intolerant and old-fashioned, even for small town America. At that point the author helpfully put in a clue for me:
He tried to shrug off the inner voice condemning him, and didn’t look or speak to anyone on the way back toward his truck. It was a ’43 Ford, bought new three years ago from Delaney’s lot in Saddle Brook, painted black and white courtesy of Mickey’s Garage down on Fifth Street, and fitted with a red bubble light on the roof. Sheriff, Township of Poplar Grove was printed in gold lettering across both side panels.
Thus it all became clear once I realised the story is set in 1946. I did wish I’d had it been spelled out a little clearer from the beginning, but as it was the only niggle in what turned out to be a colourful and unusual story of a small town sheriff who falls in love with a carnival lion tamer, I’m not holding it against the author! I liked the reserved Paul, who spends most of the story fighting a battle against his small minded townspeople, his responsibilities as sheriff and his sexuality. I also respected Max who had a quiet acceptance of his sexuality and allowed Paul the space to make decisions about his future and his feelings for Max. Rating: 4.25 Stars.
The Case of the Missing Boa by Aaron Michaels
Jake is a smalltime Las Vegas private detective who is hired by Leo, the owner of a pet sanctuary to find a stolen snake. Jake then spends the rest of the story searching for clues whilst fighting his attraction to Leo.
The plot of this story was deceptively simple. It was, in many ways, an old fashioned PI detective story with Jake searching for clues, interviewing potential suspects and digging about before he finally solved the mystery. What set this apart from the norm and also made it my favourite story in this anthology was the witty, deadpan humour that permeated the whole tale. Jake had such a delightful dry sense of humour and his observations, especially in the many occasions that he compared himself to other, famous PIs, brought a smile to my face a number of times. Take this bit from the start of the book:
This guy wasn’t the Chippendales dancer of Jake’s daydream. He was better. Smooth, tanned skin, strong jaw, lightly muscled arms, and chest shown off to great advantage by an old-fashioned wife-beater; the guy was maybe late twenties. He had deep brown eyes surrounded by the thickest lashes Jake had ever seen on man or woman. His dark hair was cut to medium length and curled in a haphazard way, giving him an adorable bed head look. At least Jake thought it looked adorable.
Just to make sure he wasn’t still daydreaming, Jake pinched his forearm. Nope, he definitely felt pain. Reality check number one passed with flying colors.
He cleared his throat. “What can I do for you?”
“Someone stole my boa,” the guy said.
“Feather?” Jake asked. After all, this was Las Vegas, and the guy did have the long-legged, athletic body of a stage dancer.
“Snake,” the guy said. “About seven feet long.” He pulled a picture out of the back pocket of his jeans. “His name’s Marty.”
Marty the snake. Right. What was Jake’s reality check number two again?
All in all, this was a great mystery with a witty, sardonic PI – what’s not to love? Rating: 4.75 stars.
Driven by Destiny by Jane Davitt
Set in Hollywood during prohibition, this story follows our hero, Kerr Owens, who is agent to the Hollywood starlet Destiny Devine. He is alarmed to discover that Destiny is considering obtaining a leopard as a pet. Fortunately, Destiny’s bodyguard, Tony, manages to persuade her that this isn’t the best idea, leading to Kerr and Tony becoming friends. After a few illegal drinks and a lot of flirting the men arrive back at Destiny’s deserted house all ready to take their friendship to the next level. Unfortunately for them, the leopard has been delivered and somehow it’s got out of its cage.
This was another story filled with sly humour. From Destiny, the petulant starlet to Tony, the beefy bodyguard who hides the heart of a submissive in his bulky frame, the characters in this story brought not only a sense of time but were also recognisable without being unoriginal. I liked Kerr and the discovery he makes about himself when faced by Tony’s request for him to be the dominant partner. The scenes where the two men were working out their roles was also a refreshing spin on the D/s dynamic. Even the leopard had a character all of its own! A refreshing spin on the ‘trapped in the house with a dangerous animal’ plot. Rating: 4.5 stars.
Slow and Steady by CB Potts
Four men are trekking through the Amazon in search of footage for a nature documentary. Just as they are about to give up they discover a rare breed of snail which could bring fame and fortune to the small group. Whilst on the trek, biologist and our first person narrator, ‘Professor’, starts a relationship with Rafe, the guide. Shortly before the cameraman is due to film these elusive snails for the first time, Rafe disappears with the camera, leading everyone except the professor to believe he has abandoned them.
The most interesting thing about this story was the characterisation and differing motivations of each of the men. The Professor wants only to find and catalogue new species, the cameraman, Everett, wants to find original footage, the presenter, Gregg, is after fame and glory and Rafe wants to find a way to prevent the political big-wigs flooding the area for a new dam and reservoir. These diverse and conflicting motivations generate an interesting push and pull between the men. This is further hindered by the relationship between the Professor and Rafe which initially seems to be a way for the two men to find relief, but it may also be that the Professor is being taken advantage of. The jungle itself is almost another character in the way it swallows up the men as they make their progress, adding another layer to this deceptively simple story. Rating: 4.25 stars.
Rodeo Mafia by Julia Talbot
This story follows Lanny, a skinny city-boy animal rights activist who is challenged by cowboy Harley to spend the weekend on his ranch to see what life is really like in the country. Lanny is determined not to show weakness in front of Harley and gains a number of aches, pains and bruises on his first day as he learns to ride and help out with the feeding. They may be poles apart, but the two men can’t hide their growing attraction for one another and it’s not long before things get personal between the two of them.
This ‘opposites attract’ story was a hot and tender read. I liked Harley, especially his patience with the initially uptight and defensive Lanny. He was all ease and friendliness which went a long way to breaking down Lanny’s perceived notions on what actually happened on a ranch. Lanny’s prickly character and stubborn determination to be calm and polite, even when faced with the difficult task of learning to ride a horse was admirable and I was cheering wholeheartedly for their relationship, especially for Harley who seemed to lead such a lonely life. A great short story with lots of heat and heart. Rating: 4.5 stars.
Hiding in the Snow by Sean Michael
Biologist Mickey and documentary maker Boston are heading out to the mountains of Uzbekistan to film the elusive snow leopard. However, before they even make their first camp, bad weather hits and they are stranded. Things are further complicated when an avalanche practically buries them alive. With no means of communication, save for a beacon and only energy bars to eat, things become frightening for the two men and they turn to each other for comfort, each of them hoping to survive the ordeal and further their tentative relationship.
Although this has a similar beginning to the CB Potts story, this tale by Sean Michael has a completely different feel. Mickey (Mouse) is a man who takes his work very seriously and runs on nervous energy most of the time. He’s a little prone to mood swings so he needs to be balanced by the more steady, pragmatic Boston. The scenes in the snow and the fear that both men feel was realistically done, as was the way that the men initially clash and bump heads. If I have any complaints, it was that the story veered towards a slightly forced ending. However, that didn’t detract at all from the general feel of the story. Rating: 4 Stars.
Overall, Animal Attraction 2 is an excellent anthology and I’d highly recommend it to those who like these authors, like animals or just want to spend a bit of time reading a set of interesting, well written stories.