A T.S. Joyce's shifter series mini-review omnibus (or how I couldn't stop reading bear shifter books).
I lost most of July and August to KU shifter and SFR romance novels. I don't regret it. They were for the most part highly enjoyable, just the right mix of fun WTFery and genuine emotional conflicts. Fun, quick and generally satisfying.
I started my bear shifter/T.S. Joyce binge with the Damon's Mountain Series books: These interconnected books feature Bear, Avian, Dragon and Gorillas!!? lumberjack shifters.
The titles are totally corny (Lumberjack Werebear, Woodcutter Werebear, Timberman Werebear, Sawman Wearbear, etc), but don't let that keep you away from these trailer-park living, brawling lumberjacks who fall for brash, quirky and not-all-helpless heroines. The series eventually works its way through all the associated camps of lumberjack bears on or connected to Damon's Mountain ( Saw Bears, Gray Backs, Boarlanders, and Fire Bears), rehabilitating them one tropey romance at a time and I read every single one of them. To figure out what order in which to read them check out TS Joyce's website, incredibly helpful website. I loved that she frequently updated it and contained a clear reading order guide and links to all the series, clearly labeled.
These novellas were just the right length, giving me just enough romance, characterization and conflict. Their shared backstory and the expanding world drew me in while the stories were different enough that I didn't get tired of them. T.S. Joyce hit a particular KU sweet-spot with these books keeping me engaged in expanded world without burning me out. The one disappointment I have in the series is how little diversity there was. None of the heroes were POC and there wasn't a heroine of color till the second book in the Harper's Mountains series (Bloodrunner Bear) which is about 24 books into that expanded universe.
My favorite of the romances was Grayback Broken Bear (Gray Back Bears Book 4). The romance is between a berserker bear and a raven shifter that has secretly loved him since they were both children. Aviana's escape from her oppressive and abusive community and the fragile link between she and Easton was very moving.
Another fave in the series was Axman Wearbear (Saw Bears 5) book, where Bruiser is blackmailed by the Damon Daye (the last immortal dragon and guardian of the mountain) in marrying his daughter, Diem, because his dragon-mixed lineage means they might be able to breed a dragon child together. There is a huge problem with this plan outside of the fact that Diem and Bruiser are both being coerced into the marriage, and that is that the pregnancy is likely to prove fatal for Diem. This serious conflict has ramifications in later books that are very credibly executed.
I blew through these books, reading about two a day, so eventually I ran out of them. Thankfully Joyce wrote two spin-off series: Harper's and Kane's Mountains books that follow a second generation of bears, dragons and birds and are a loose continuation of the Damon Mountain books. Dragon shifters can unbalance battles in almost deux ex machina way due to their overwhelming power advantage over other shifters, yet Joyce manages to keeps the stakes high despite increased number of dragon shifters, finding credible ways to limit them or builds the imbalance into the conflict.
There is also a related but standalone Vampire series called Winterset Coven that is a spin-offs of these spin-offs, It is just getting started but the first book's premise was intriguing and I just added the second book to my TBR.
Once I worked through all the spin-offs, standalone and interconnected and I was forced to seek out Joyce's previous series.
I first tried Joyce's Bear Valley Shifter series about a human woman on the run from the mob who unknowingly seeks sanctuary in secretive bear shifter community. I bailed after the first book, The Witness and The Bear. While there was some interesting characters, the series was cliffhangery, angsty and grittier than I wanted.
The Bears Fur Hire series, was closer to what I wanted, but much more serious that Damon Mountain books. The shifters in these books are more animal than the shifters in the Damon's Mountain's books. They are much more affected by the cycles of animal life and the necessity & dangers of bear hibernation is a major plot point series.
Husband for Hire, was as much about the challenges of Alaskan homesteading as it was about bear shifters and it was my favorite of this series. I really enjoyed Elyse's give-no-fucks attitude and Ian's desire to protect her and his frustration at not being able to. Elyse is the hero in the book. She has had a tough time, is only human, but just doesn't give up, protecting Ian when he can't even protect himself. I read and enjoyed the rest of the books in the series, featuring Ian's brothers and their friends, bears and wolves but I was annoyed at with the inter-connecting backstory that was at times both convoluted and confusing.
I was distracted by vague and shifting and changing mythology in the Hells Canyon Shifter series. These books featured a lot of conflict over how inappropriate and inconvenient mating bonds affected pack and inter-pack politics. I ended up reading them all but they were just okay and none of them was a particular favorite because the romances felt de-centered.
While these earlier series were not quite as charming, fun or cracky as the Damon's Mountain books they did help tame my raging bear shifter addiction. I am happy to say that I haven't read a bear shifter book in almost a month!