This is from the opening blurb to Winter Howl:
Renee Chambers, a moderate-level agoraphobe, runs a no-kill dog sanctuary that doubles as a haven for canine shapeshifters. Britt, her best friend who also acts as Renee’s service dog, coaxes an anxious but curious Renee into a romance that has more than a little electricity. With her organisation running smoothly and a girlfriend who loves her, life could be worse.
Then Grant Heath, a rogue werewolf, shows up and turns her safe little world upside down and inside out, with a side of out of control. She knows it’s a terrible idea, but when she’s with him, she feels different from her tightly wound, controlled self—she almost feels normal. He never does anything she doesn’t want, but he also doesn’t care how far he pushes her beyond her agoraphobic limitations.
I’ve got that out of the way early because it’s easier for the writer to explain this plot rather than me stumble through an explanation of what I understood from my reading of this book. Also, there seems to be an awful lot going on here and I didn’t want it to come across as though I was trying to overtell the story in précis form, or be glib about the expansive content.
To be honest, if I’d attempted a story of this magnitude, I think I might have trimmed some of these very ambitious plot threads. A full erotic novel could be worked around the theme of an agoraphobe. Or, a full erotic novel could be worked around the theme of someone working in a dog sanctuary. And it goes without saying that plenty of stories have been written about love triangles and shapeshifting/werewolves.
But that ambition is likely what is fuelling Aurelia T Evans with this title, billed as Book One in the Sanctuary Series. There is a lot of story to tell here and, whilst this is a complete story, Winter Howl is just the opener.
This is an example of the writing from Winter Howl when Renee and Britt are out together.
She was not against the notion of women with women—she just did not know where she fit into the notion of women with women. Sexuality in general was relaxed among her shapeshifters, in part because the issues people had with sex were often not an issue among their canine companions. Hence the red faces and apologies in polite society when Duke tried to mount Spot or when Cinnamon tried to mount Lily. Renee, having been raised around dogs who naturally engaged in sexual activity amongst themselves and shapeshifters who did the same, was not fazed by the theory or practice of sex. She had just never engaged in much more than masturbatory exploration, which had been okay with her, for the most part. The idea of being attracted to someone was an abstraction with very few exceptions in her life, the kiss with Josh being one of them and the attraction that Jake and Britt had for her and each other being another.
The hair stroking did feel good, though. But another part of her was beginning to make her skin hum a little less pleasantly. She felt frozen in place, caught between liking the strokes and disliking the sensation of not having a handle on the moment.
Britt removed the hand, and her placatory grin was a little wry. “Sorry, was I pushing things?”
The ‘no’ caught in Renee’s throat, but she was able to say, “Wasn’t sure what to make of it. I need to go check supplies in the shifters’ barn.”
“Sorry,” Britt said.
“No. Don’t be.” And that she said it meant that it was true.
For my tastes this seems to be more telling than showing. I enjoy writing that presents description and allows me to make up my own mind as to whether or not Character A enjoys the company/ministrations of Character B. That’s not to say that the style of writing I prefer is better to or superior. I’m just saying here that I prefer a less expository narrative style that allows for personal interpretation whilst Aurelia T Evans doesn’t allow scope for ambiguity.
This is a title that touches on many of the most popular themes in contemporary fiction. We have erotica and shapeshifters and the realism of a character struggling to combat a stifling condition such as agoraphobia. On a personal level, this story didn’t work for me. However, I can understand how it would appeal to a lot of readers.
Grant’s arm was around her stomach, but he wasn’t too near her, and she was easily able to slip away, biting back the urge to groan as her body protested. But Grant’s breathing was still even, so she assumed she had not woken him.
And even if she had, Renee thought, Screw it.
She bent over, hissing through her teeth, and pulled out the toiletry bag she had packed. Once she was in the bathroom, she shut the door and turned on the light. As she started the water for a bath, first cold for a while, then hot, she took a cursory look at herself.
If she had not known that the marks on her body had been made during particularly rigorous and sometimes violent sex, she probably would have been even more concerned, but as it was, she was only moderately so. She stood up to look at herself in the mirror. It was even worse that way—there were bite marks all over her body, some of them just bruises, others bordering on broken skin. Bruises where he had held her too hard or where she had hit herself on furniture. Claw marks all down her legs. The place on her arm where she had bitten herself. She thought she should be ashamed of them, and although she was slightly horrified, it was more because of their appearance, not because of what had caused them. At least it was winter, and there would not be much cause for someone to ask about places on her body that they would never get the chance to see.