Tag Team Review: Off the Beaten Path by Cari Z.

When Ward Johannsen’s little girl Ava shifted into a werewolf, she was taken into custody by the feds and shipped off to the nearest pack, all ties between father and daughter severed. Ward burned every bridge he had discovering her location, and then almost froze to death in the Colorado mountains tracking her new pack down. And that’s just the beginning of his struggle.

Henry Dormer is an alpha werewolf and an elite black ops soldier who failed his last mission. He returns home, hoping for some time to recuperate and help settle the pack’s newest member, a little pup named Ava who can’t shift back to her human form. Instead he meets Ward, who refuses to leave his daughter without a fight. The two men are as different as night and day, but their respect for each other strikes a spark of mutual interest that quickly grows into a flame. They might find something special together—love, passion, and even a family—if they can survive trigger-happy pack guardians, violent werewolf politics, and meddling government agencies that are just as likely to get their alpha soldiers killed as bring them home safely.

4.75 average!

R *A Reader Obsessed* - 4.5 Seriously Impressed Hearts

The title is so appropriate, for this is beyond any shifter book I've ever read, and it was quite the fabulous refreshing read.

I don’t know if I can do this story justice but I’m gonna try…

What one has to know first is that this is a world where werewolves obviously exist. They’re a government experiment gone wrong decades ago and the age old debate did come up as to what to do with this new subset of humans with extraordinary abilities but potentially scary ones at that. There’s unfortunately now a very strict divide between “species” and once a person goes werewolf, they are pretty much separated from their human life and brought into the fold of a pack. Werewolves are basically second class citizens - highly monitored, regulated, and restricted as they pose a perceived danger to the masses should one go rogue. To keep them in line and to insure their safety, a pack’s alpha is basically conscripted to serve the government in any nefarious ways they deem necessary, using their deadly skills in the name of national security.

Knowing that, this book starts off with Ward. He’s desperately trying to find his newly shifted daughter Ava. By law, she is no longer legally his and has been unfairly taken away from him to an unknown destination to be raised by her “own kind”. Well fuck that. Ward is not going to give up that easily. His daughter is the only family he has left, and he is determined to be a part of her life, regardless of the fact that it’s basically unheard of for a human to live among werewolves. Luckily, he has a friend in high places that helps Ward track Ava down, and once he arrives, he staunchly refuses to budge.

Enter Henry. He’s Ava’s alpha, and though he knows Ward’s presence is probably the best thing for her, especially since she has yet to shift back to human and is slowly failing to thrive, his first inclination is to say no because it’s against the rules and Henry always follows the rules. Ward’s presence and how he came to find Henry’s pack puts all of them in danger, shining an unwanted spotlight on Henry as he essentially takes the “blame” for this breach in security.

With pressures and demands coming at Henry from all directions, the last thing he needs is to feel attraction to the newcomer. However, he can’t deny that Ward’s tenacity and bravery grounds him like no other, and though Ward was never something Henry ever imagined he could obtain, he sure is something Henry wants. In turn, Ward feels the same attraction and hesitation. Henry is prickly and intimidating but his consideration and care for all of those under his protection cannot be ignored. Ward realizes Henry is admirable in his acceptance to be an instrument for the government to use and abuse, taking their shit over and over for the good of the pack, sacrificing his happiness, his soul. If Ward can give and get some measure of comfort with Henry, he’s going to try his darnedest to do what feels right by him and what he starts to feel is now his pack too.

Perhaps as a warning, this isn’t a fluffy shifter romance. This had grit, an urgent seriousness to it. Life isn’t pretty nor kind. Responsibility weighs heavily, and it takes every ounce of willpower and determination and obligation to survive the unfairness of it all. Perhaps though, finding someone special to care for and to be be cared by, can ease that burden. For those that need to know, the doling out the yummy bits between these two are small and far and few between. However, the gradual build and the UST are palpable and oh so strongly felt, and despite the low smexy level, this still kept my avid interest. Have no doubt though, I would’ve hungrily gobbled up more if given.

I obviously loved this. I want Cari Z to write at least 10 more books in this compelling complex world she has created. She better because I have to know the fates of Tennyson and Davis!! Puh-leeeeasse don’t leave me hanging!!!

Like I said. Unique and wholly captivating. It sucked me in, caught me, and wouldn't let go. Very very highly recommended!

Thanks to the author/publisher for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Sara - 5 Hearts

Well this was different and different is good.

Cari Z took the genre of shifters and added a little something extra to it. She plays with the tropes well known in the genre and then takes it to an almost dystopian level that made this a truly unique read for this redhead.

Ward Johannsen is on a mission. His four year old daughter Ava has been taken from him because she shifted into a wolf on her first day of school. Now Ward himself is not a werewolf but apparently the werewolf mutation was passed to Ava through her mother and the stress of school and being away from her dad caused the shift. Once that happened, the government stepped in and took Ward’s daughter from him and he is not having it. With the help of his late brother’s best friend and the only man he considers family, Ward sets off to a hidden location to get his daughter back. The only thing is, it’s Antarctic cold outside in Colorado and California bred Ward is a bit on the sickly side, so he gets all muddled to where he is, but thank goodness a kind hearted person decides to take pity on him when she finds out who he is.

Henry Dormer is the alpha of the La Garita and takes his role seriously. He knows the hardships and heartache that comes with running a pack and without the love and support of his sister Sam, Henry would be lost. When he comes back from his latest brutal mission as an elite black ops soldier to an unfamiliar smell and human in his house, things get complicated fast.

Let me take a minute to tell you a brief summary of this shifter world. The wolves aren’t natural, they are a mutation of an experiment that was supposed to give super soldiers the heightened senses of a wolf and instead turned them into wolves. The mutation can be hereditarily passed or passed through fluids with say, a bite. Most with the mutation have their first shift when they are young and are swiftly taken to a secret compound of sorts where the pack lives under the thumb of the US government and treated…well, treated like dogs. The alpha of each pack is forced to perform for the military doing the most gruesome of missions and the government decides when and how pack members will be eliminated. It’s quite shitty how the government treats the wolves and there are a good number of politicians etc. who would prefer they just be gone completely.

So, Ward is frozen and Sam – Henry’s non-wolf sister – brings him home to take care of him once he tells her he’s Ava’s dad. The pack knows the little wolf who showed up months ago isn’t in good shape, hasn’t shifted from her wolf state and is in the process of being declared with a “failure to thrive.” This right there broke my heart. As a parent, all I could think about was how much this tiny baby of a girl needed the only family she had, she needed her daddy. (And yet, giving us Ava as a pup is quite possibly the best thing ever in this book but I will get back to that.) Henry isn’t too hip to having a human on his land or in his home considering no one is supposed to know where they are but he feels and smells something in Ward he hasn’t before. With a few strong but caring words from Sam and her wolf husband Liam, Henry gives in and let’s Ward stay.

Ward’s reaction to the wolves was great. He was a bit scared, a bit curious and really, just in need to see his daughter. Ward will do whatever necessary to be with his daughter again even if that means never leaving the lands of the La Garita pack and actually staying with them as pack. His first trip to the clinic to see Ava was heartbreaking and yet adorable as heck because there is one hell of a hug that happens and then we get Ava in full pup mode! OMG! One of my favorite things about shifter books in when they are in their animal form and just acting like that animal would, and Ava is adorable as a pup and yet so freaking sad. You know this little girl wants her daddy something fierce, but is so new to this wolf thing she can’t figure out how to do shift. With the help of her now Alpha Henry and her dad there, this pup is working hard to get it done. Ugh. So cute. I cannot stress enough how cute Ava is.

But along with the cute, there's a lot going on in this story and in this pack of wolves. We have not only the wolves but Sam who is human and married to a wolf. We have the guardian, John who is charged with protecting the wolves, but also doing his job with the government. We have Gerald and Peggy who want their eldest Roman to take over as Alpha because they think Henry is too soft at times. We have Tennyson who is a new pack member and a doctor who has one hell of a story of his own. We have Ward with his secrets about how he even knew where to find the pack, and we have Henry who is sent on missions that are so dangerous, he fears he may not return from them. And then we have Ward and Henry together, our MC’s who if you read shifter stories are basically fated mate-esque with a slow burn. Now doesn’t that sound delicious? Trust me it was.

This really was a slow burn shifter/human romance and no I am not being sarcastic. You get the normal wolf behavior of smells, scenting and hearing heartbeats, wanting to mark and mine etc. But Ward is such an amazing character that you, or at least I, wanted him to turn into a wolf for all sort of selfish reasons that don’t involve sex. I just wanting him to belong in every way, but Ward doesn’t need the mutation to belong, he simply does just by being himself. And all of that gives us a story where Henry and Ward get to know one another while they work together to not only get Ava to shift, but they work together for the betterment and contentment of the pack as the times continue to evolve.

So this, wow. I have so much to say still, but I will stop rambling and wrap this up.

This book was great. I loved Ward’s sense of humor and how he calmed Henry when most would run away. I bawled my eyes out with the Wilson scene and cried tears of joy over Henry and Ward’s first kiss and what happened before it. I adored Tennyson with a fiery passion and really would love to see just how much time he is now spending with Davis. I adored the heck out of Ava and the kids Sam and Henry teach when they get furry time and how much they LOVE when Alpha Henry visits. Goodness. I just loved the hell out of this book.

Off the Beaten Path did just that for me, it took me off my normal shifter path of reading and dropped me into a new world the author did a wonderful job of creating. It’s the story of two men who find each other in the least expected place but find the heart where they belong. It’s a story about being different in a world that would rather you don’t exist and fighting to remain and thrive. It’s one hell of a romance that has me wanting more already and really hoping this becomes a series. If the author needs a suggestion for the next couple… I volunteer Tennyson and Davis, for reasons.

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