by Audrey Faye
Series: Ghost Mountain Wolf Shifters #1
Publisher: Fireweed Publishing LTD
Publication Date: January 5, 2019
Source: Kindle Unlimited
A pack broken.
A pup in danger.
A submissive wolf who will fight with her last breath.
Hayden Scott doesn’t know his stroll in the woods is going to start with a backpack full of watermelon and end with him the new alpha of the Ghost Mountain Pack. A very traumatized pack, and those are only the shifters he can see. Too many are missing, hiding in the woods or worse.
His wolf doesn’t care. He has a pack. One with maple-syrup-covered toddlers, a ten-year-old boy who smells like wolf right up until he shifts, and a brave woman with green eyes and serious trust problems who defended her pup with nothing more than a tree branch and sheer guts.
The walk ahead won’t be easy, but he has a list.
Burn down the den.
Deal with the evil still stalking the woods.
This book is a warm, furry, probably maple-syrup-covered sticky hug. I noticed some clunky writing in the first few chapters, but once the main character settles in for breakfast with a syrup-covered kid on his lap? The next thing I knew I was finishing the book and it was 3am.
Hayden’s training trip into the woods with his friends Rio and Kel turn into a much more hands-on learning experience than anyone intended. When they find a fellow wolf shifter and her child under attack, Hayden is left with no choice but killing the cruel alpha, leaving him the new leader of the decimated and traumatized Ghost Mountain pack. With his friends – and a little help from his family – Hayden must figure out how to help his new pack recover from a six year reign of terror.
“So now we’re your pack. If you want us. Your really dysfunctional, broken, messed-up pack.”
This reads very much like the first installment in a series, though the book does have a few plot lines that are resolved before the end. The first is what happens to the male dominants who were responsible for carrying out a lot of the abuse for the past six years. What seems like a cut and dried decision for the reader is revealed to have a lot more complications: the role of the alpha in influencing the younger wolves, the need for more protectors for the pack, and most importantly the strained but still existing family ties between the dominants and the “submissives”. There’s a lot of opportunities for knee-jerk “correct” reactions from all of the characters in the book but time and time again the author (and Hayden) never take that easy way out. Does being alpha mean unilaterally making decisions for the group’s benefit or does it mean having to be more careful about making sure even the smallest voices are heard? Does it mean protecting everyone at all costs to prevent more trauma so they can heal or does it mean allowing some risk but also a peek at a new reality?
The second plot line is whether Lissa will stay with the pack. Lissa and her son, Robbie, a young wolf with Down’s syndrome, were the wolves under attack at the start of the book. It’s not that Lissa hasn’t seen how bad things have gotten in the pack she was born in, but she stuck around in order to help the other women get as many of their pack mates to safety as possible. Robbie’s sudden shift reveals that he’s a dominant wolf, and despite being under six years old, that’s a death sentence from their alpha. They’re caught trying to escape, and while they’re saved from death at the last possible minute, Lissa doubts she’ll ever feel safe in the pack again. Itching to be off, she vows to stay only long enough to make sure they’re in good hands with Hayden and then she and Robbie will be off. The swiftness with which Hayden upends the pack – and her wolf’s reaction to him – will make it harder, but Lissa knows her heart can’t take any more heartbreak and trauma, and that’s all that’s left in the Ghost Mountain Pack. Right?
What I loved the most about this book is that it’s found family (in a very extended fashion) in all its glory. Hayden, Rio and Kel have no qualms accepting their new pack wholeheartedly and showing them that pack means safety, comfort and the support to grow as a person. Teen girl’s a whiz at computers? Hayden’s only worry is that one of his former pack mates will try to poach her for his company. Young boy wants to help cook? Cool, maybe some of the other pups will want to help as well! They’re cautious sensitive about navigating all the layers of trauma weighing down the pack while slowly winning their trust. Sure, they mess up, but they all make it clear that any frustration or anger is aimed solely at either themselves or the abusers, and apologize for causing any more stress.
It also doesn’t hurt that Hayden is literally The Sweetest Ever (probably helped along by all that pup-applied syrup and fruit). He’s kind and considerate but can be forceful and scary when he needs to be, and while he’s playful by nature (especially with the pups) he’s also a well-trained fighter. He knows that the heart of a pack is its pups so he’s ever so careful about making sure they feel safe and happy and, perhaps more importantly, valued. He’s great at rolling with the gut punches of finding out all the various ways their previous alpha abused them and rather than demoralizing him it just makes him want to work even harder for them. Hayden’s not afraid to ask for advice, whether that’s from Rio and Kel or from one of the women who have become the de facto spokespeople for the pack. All of the pack members on page – especially the kids – are sketched out so clearly that it’s impossible not to feel proud every time they show another tiny sign of healing.
The only reason why this is 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars is because I was expecting a little more out of the romance. The first few chapters – where Hayden rescues Lissa and her son – felt like the first few beats of a standard paranormal romance. And then it veers off in a completely different direction once Hayden meets the rest of the pack and figures out just how badly broken they are. That’s not to say that the rest of the book isn’t excellent or that there aren’t plenty of very good reasons why a slow burn romance makes perfect sense, but I had an expectation based on the blurb and the first chapters. That they’re interested in each other (or rather that their wolves are nuts about each other) isn’t something that’s forgotten though, whether that’s Hayden’s wolf insistent desire to bring Lissa lots of plump rabbits or Lissa continually trying not to notice how much Hayden’s already stolen her heart.
Overall, 4.5 stars, and a series I can’t wait to continue. Perfect if you’re looking for a warm and comforting story focused on family and healing.
Content notes: View Spoiler »violence (including murder, on page but mostly in the past), abuse (in the past, generally referred to but never explicit), trauma (including nightmares), reference to military PTSD, ableism (by bad guys), sexism (by bad guys), child in danger « Hide Spoiler