All Koll wants is a wife, someone to love who will love him back. On his planet, eligible men offer their ribbon to potential spouses before winter, the mating season. Women can choose to either accept or reject the ribbons. Those who accept stay with their chosen men during the winter and then, by spring, decide whether to move on or marry whoever it is they stayed with.
Koll, unfortunately, has never been able to convince any women to accept his ribbon. His bear-like size and gruffness keeps scaring them off. He has become something of a joke in his village.
While on his latest quest to find someone willing to stay with him over the winter, Koll comes across Shila, on the run from two men. Although Koll doesn't learn this until later, Shila is a Child of Nanook - she can transform into a frost bear. She likes Koll's large size just fine, and Koll thinks he has finally found the woman for him. First, however, Shila and Koll have to deal with the male frost bear shifters who are after her.
I picked this up because I loved the idea of a gruff-looking outcast, who's really a lonely softy, meeting a woman who likes him just the way he is. Unfortunately, this was one of those times when I liked the idea of a story better than its actual execution.
Part of my problem with this novella was that I didn't really like Koll. I'm pretty sure the author wanted readers to see him as a big, sexy, misunderstood sweetie. Instead, I found myself thinking that it was no wonder he couldn't get any women to accept his ribbon and stay with him for the winter. Yes, he was huge (according to him, an average woman's chest comes about as high as his navel), but it was more than that. He wasn't a conversationalist in any way, shape, or form. Soon after meeting Shila, the two of them had lots and lots of sex. It wasn't until about a third of the way through the story, as he was trying to introduce her to the other villagers, that he realized he hadn't even asked her what her name was. Shila didn't see anything wrong with this and didn't mind, but I did. I had similar issues when, late in the story, Koll had sex with Shila and didn't even notice until after they were done that she was hurt. Again, she didn't mind, but I did. A guy who is so focused on sex that absolutely nothing else enters his brain just isn't sexy to me.
In case you hadn't already guessed, this novella is mostly composed of sex scenes. I tend to prefer books and novellas with more story and less sex, and it didn't help that I rarely found the scenes in Mating Season to be sexy.
Shortly after Koll met and rescued Shila, there was a moment when he had to undress her. She was unconscious and dressed in wet clothes. It was cold outside. Making sure she was warm and dry was a good thing. Except Koll couldn't undress her without getting all hot and bothered, which led to him masturbating to the sight of her naked, unconscious body. Okay, so he felt ashamed afterward, but still. I think readers were supposed to find this scene hot, but it was so completely icky to me.
I continued to have problems with the supposed “hot” scenes. Some of Ritch's word choices made me shudder - I would prefer that the word “drool” never be associated with genitalia. Ever. Also, while the story contains no actual bestiality, there was one instance where Koll had a sudden fantasy about Shila giving him a blow job while in bear form. No. Just no. And Shila's dialogue when she complied with Koll's request to tell him how much she liked his large body while they were having sex was cringe-worthy.
The world-building was pretty weak, and all the sex scenes left little room for anything else. Supposedly, Shila got to know and win over other villagers besides Koll, but readers don't get to see much of this on-page. The sex in this story really does take precedence over everything else. While I did like that Shila was never presented as a whimpering, helpless damsel-in-distress (she and Koll fought her frost bear shifter pursuers together!), all in all, this novella was not for me.
To be fair, I think I may have purchased this back before I made sure to read reviews and excerpts in addition to descriptions. The excerpt is pretty good about giving potential buyers a taste of what they'd be in for.
- His Teddy Bear (e-novella) by Eve Langlais - I haven't read this. I added it to this list because the heroine is a bear shifter. As in Mating Season, there is some self-consciousness about physical appearance (the heroine is short and chubby), but in this case the other person doesn't immediately accept and like that appearance.
- Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (anthology) by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Melanie George, and Jaid Black - I've added this to my read-alikes list specifically because of Jaid Black's "Hunter's Right." It wasn't a story that worked for me, but it has aspects that would probably appeal to fans of Ritch's novella. Just like Koll, the hero of this story thinks of himself as unappealing to women. If I remember correctly, he's bigger and brawnier (and maybe hairier?) than is considered attractive among his people. The heroine reassures him that he's just what women look for in a man.
- Wild Burn (e-book) by Edie Harris - I haven't read this. For those who are okay with trying something a little different, this one's a Western romance featuring an ex-nun and a gruff, hard gunslinger who hasn't been around women in a while. Fans of Koll might want to give this book a shot.