Although the cover makes it clear that this is m/m romance (the butt-grabbing of Shirtless Guy couldn't make it more obvious), it doesn't tell you much else. For those who'd like to know, this is a paranormal romance in a contemporary setting. The main characters are werepanthers.
Jin Rayne, a werepanther, hasn't had a proper home since his tribe kicked him out for being both gay and a reah (very rare, the lifemate of a semel/tribe leader - Jin is the only male reah known to exist). Jin's best friend, Crane, chose to leave the tribe with him, so now the two of them travel from one place to the next. Although Crane would like to settle down and become part of a new tribe, Jin is afraid to, afraid that he'll possibly end up mated to a semel who won't want to have anything to do with a male mate.
Once the semels in the area find out there's an unmated reah in their midst, every single one of them wants to meet him face-to-face, to see if he's their mate. In spite of himself, Jin finds himself drawn to one particular semel, Logan. Even if Logan accepts him as his mate, however, will his tribe be able to accept a reah who can't possibly give their semel children?
Change of Heart is best for readers who enjoy or at least can tolerate Gay For You, paranormal romance that features the soulmate trope, and m/m romance that seems meant for those who'd just like to read about two hot guys who have the hots for each other (meaning, I'm guessing that those looking for realism would probably be disappointed).
This book was the very first m/m romance novel I ever read (unless you count Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald Mage books – I don't, because, while they have strong romantic elements, I consider them to be more in the fantasy genre). I picked it precisely because I do like paranormal romance that features the soulmate trope. Whenever people start complaining about the soulmate trope on my favorite romance blogs, I can't resist jumping in to defend it, even though I sometimes start to feel like I'm the only one who still likes it.
Getting back on track: I have now read this book two or three times. Trying to say how I feel about it overall is...tough. On the one hand, I consider this book to be really flawed in a lot of ways. On the other hand, Calmes hit on enough of my favorite romance tropes that I was willing to put up with the flaws.
I'll write about the flaws first. The first time I read this book, the thing that bothered me the most is that Jin is basically a male Mary Sue. Everybody who meets him thinks he's the greatest, unless it was convenient for them to hate him. The book explains that all this adoration (by the end, it reaches “religious experience” levels for a whole crowd of people) is the product of Jin being a reah. That doesn't make it any less annoying and eye roll worthy. Plus, that explanation irked me somewhat, because there was ample evidence that some people were fantastically immune to Jin's reah powers. Unless it was convenient for them not to be.
One semel, Domin, made it clear that he planned to take Jin as his mate by force, if need be. He wasn't interested in Jin as a person, and only wanted the status of being a semel-re (a semel who has found his soulmate). Being a semel-re automatically means that a semel will be considered the best of the best semels, although I'm not really sure why – something to do with reahs only mating with the strongest semels, so a mated semel is, by definition, a strong semel. Like so many other explanations in this book, this just struck me as kind of stupid.
Anyhoo, Domin was going to bind Jin to him by force. I'm not sure how he thought he was going to manage that, but the point is that, unlike everyone else in the book, he didn't immediately get all breathless and awe-filled in Jin's presence, or at least not enough to actually treat him nicely. Same goes for another semel, Christophe, who might even have raped Jin if he had gotten the chance. From the sounds of things, Jin's magical reah powers had zero effect on everyone in his old tribe except his friend Crane – they ganged up on Jin, beat the crap out of him, and exiled him.
When I reread the book, I found myself bothered by another flaw: this book has some really terrible dialogue. The most glaring problem I noticed was Calmes' use of words like “hafta” for “have to,” “gonna” for “going to,” “wanna” for “want to,” etc. I'm sure she was probably trying to make the dialogue feel more natural and realistic, but instead it was just annoying. I couldn't figure out why those words were used in some instances and not others. Here's one of the best examples of that cringe-worthy inconsistency, a line of dialogue said by Logan on page 132: “Your hair is mine, you're mine, and I'll tell ya what you can and cannot do from now on.” Thankfully, I think this sort of thing pretty much disappears in the latter half of the book.
There were a lot of things that caused some eye rolling on my part, but one of the biggest was the “gay for you” aspect. This shows up some in boys' love manga, but for some reason my response to it in manga is different than my response to it in novels – possibly my ability to suspend my disbelief is stronger when it comes to manga? I do know “gay for you” can be done well in novels, but I don't think it was done well in Change of Heart. Jin understandably had trouble believing that Logan, a guy who had previously shown no romantic or sexual interest in guys, was suddenly willing to be his mate and share his life with him. Logan's answer to this: “You're a man, and you're my mate; therefore, from now on I'm gay. Why are we even discussing this?” (109) and “My mate is a man, and therefore I can be no other than gay” (144). Since I could totally see where Jin was coming from, this prompted a huge eye roll on my part.
So, with all these flaws, why did I end up liking the book to reread it? This part is a little harder to explain. Like I said, I really enjoy the soulmate trope and the things that generally go with it. I also have a high tolerance for made-up words - a good thing, because this book had no glossary, and words like reah, semel, yareah, etc. come up a lot.
Just because a book has the soulmate trope or shapeshifters doesn't automatically mean I'll like it. I think what put this book into my “like it enough to reread it” category was that 1) I liked Jin and 2) I like storylines in which the “heroine” (in this case, that would be Jin) is doubtful that the romance can work out and must be convinced that the hero won't leave the instant things get difficult.
The book was written in the first person, from Jin's perspective. While Calmes' dialogue could, as I said, be somewhat cringe-worthy, I enjoyed Jin's “voice.” I liked that Jin wasn't willing to let Logan take over his life. I liked that, although Logan was probably physically stronger, Jin was second to no one in his knowledge of tribal law – even if things got to the point where it kind of resembled a game of Mao. Logan starts with one set of rules, Domin slaps down the four Sons of Horus, and Jin counters with the Law of Bast. Had this gone on, I could imagine something like the Body of Osiris, which requires that everyone involved hurt themselves in various ways, with the victor being the last one standing. I made that up, but it makes about as much sense as the four Sons of Horus and the Law of Bast. So, the laws themselves rated some eye rolling from me, but Jin's command of them was pretty awesome.
Although Logan's complete acceptance of the fact that he had a male mate didn't feel entirely realistic, I did like how his status as an emotional rock played against Jin, who was filled with fears and doubts. I would have liked it if Logan had done more to prove that he accepted Jin as his mate than just say, “You are male, you are my mate, and so therefore I am gay – now we will live happily ever after.” There needed to be more of an obstacle between him and his acceptance of Jin. Since almost all of Logan's tribe accepted Jin as his mate without question, the only real obstacles were his father, who experienced a 180 shift in attitude immediately upon learning that being mated to a reah made Logan really popular in the werepanther world, Jin's doubts about their relationship, and the semels who wanted to steal Jin for themselves. That was all well and good, but it wasn't quite enough for me.
Overall, even though I think I might have come across as sounding like I hated the book, I actually did like it. It hit the right notes with me, but I can also recognize that there are lots of reasons why other people might not feel the same way. I own the sequel, Trusted Bond. I haven't read it yet, but I hope that, once I do, I'll be able to say that Calmes' writing has improved.
- On the Prowl (anthology), recommended primarily for the novella "Alpha and Omega" by Patricia Briggs - The first full book in Briggs' Alpha and Omega series is actually Cry Wolf, but lovers of the soulmate trope in particular should really, really start with the novella. If you start with the first full book you'll miss out on some of Anna and Charles' story - the novella shows how they met, and the book continues where the novella left off. Anna is an Omega werewolf, a werewolf whose mere presence tends to have a calming influence on other werewolves. Unfortunately, her pack is really messed up, and when Charles first meets her she is skittish and wary from years of abuse. Charles is the son of the guy who is basically the leader of all the werewolves, as well as his designated hitman, and he is not amused by the treatment Anna has suffered. Like Jin, Anna is emotionally damaged and takes some convincing before she can accept Charles and relax around him.
- Moonlight's Silver (e-novella) Rayne Auster - This is not available in paper format. Ankerite is a half-breed, his form trapped forever between human and wolf. He can hide the wolf-like parts of his appearance from humans well enough, but real werewolves always figure out what he is and try to kill him for it. He's on the run when he's found and rescued by a werewolf named Linden. Those who'd like another m/m paranormal romance with an emotionally vulnerable main character might want to try this, although it is unfortunately very short and suffers a bit from this.
- Without Reservations (e-book) by J.L. Langley - This can be purchased in paper form, and currently very cheaply, at least through Amazon ($9.27 - I don't know if this price is for a limited time or not, so if this sounds good to you and you'd like it in paper form, you should probably act quickly). This is the second book in J.L. Langley's With or Without series - personally, I prefer reading a series in order, but this sounds like a better fit for fans of Change of Heart than the first book in the series (full disclosure: I haven't read this or any of Langley's other books). In this book, Chayton Winston, a veterinarian and werewolf, ends up mated to Keaton Reynolds, another male werewolf. This is another "gay for you" m/m romance: Chay is a heterosexual man, but, like Logan, he doesn't want to let his mate go. Like Jin, Keaton doesn't trust Chay's feelings for him.