Review: Bear Next Door by J.L. Wilder (2021)

Midlife Shifters, Book 1

Heat Factor: The sexytimes start by about 20%

Character Chemistry: It’s very laid back and insta

Plot: He’s a recovering alcoholic trying to reclaim his alpha position, she’s home after a 20-year abusive marriage, and (oops!) they’re having a baby.

Overall: Despite the heavy character backgrounds, this is an easy-to-read, relatively light romance with older protagonists

I picked up this book because I recently recorded a podcast with the hosts of What the Smut, and one of them accidentally read the wrong book! So obviously I had to read it, and here we are. 

Here are my takeaways: 

🐾 Even though Brady is supposed to be alpha born, he feels very …not. Our first introduction to him is at a convention where he’s trying to demonstrate his skills and ideas, and his alpha keeps undermining him and Brady just…lets him. A significant amount of his character arc is Brady letting go of the idea that he needs to do everything just right so the pack gives him the alpha position after they demoted him because of a DUI (plus all the alcoholism that led up to that DUI). This felt, to me, like a very un-alpha-like behavior, but at the same time I thought it made sense in the context of his shame over having the DUI and losing his position. 

🐾 Evelyn is running away from an abusive marriage, but she never does a very good job of acknowledging that her husband was abusive because he didn’t get physical with her. But he was controlling, isolating her from other people and holding her wages. For twenty years! And it wasn’t until he tried to take the roll of her tips that she’d been saving (getting a little physical in the process) that she finally fled. BUT SHE GOES BACK HOME. Like a controlling abuser isn’t going to try to keep “what’s his” and go after her? Eek!

🐾 Evelyn is a bear and her husband was a wolf. I mean, wolves are fierce, but bears are next level. Like wolves, bears have pointy teeth and sharp claws but also they weigh, like, 1000 pounds. In the context of human abusive relationships, Evelyn’s behaviors totally make sense, but I think when you throw in the bear/wolf thing it’s at least a little bit of a forehead wrinkle.

🐾 All these 40-somethings who don’t use protection because obviously they’re no longer fertile…even though they’re still having periods… Ay ay ay.

🐾 I was very confused about how this whole clan’s alpha situation worked. At first it was like Brady was meant to be the alpha and that was it. So I thought, “Oh, okay, it’s like in Psy-Changeling where there’s an alpha scent and alphas are born and that’s it.” And then Brady freaks out after thinking for a hot minute about Evelyn being pregnant because his cub IF IT’S MALE will be alpha born. (And the current alpha won’t like the threat of the alpha cub.) And I was like… What now? First, let’s just leave the only-men-are-alphas thing to the side because that’s a whole thing to unpack in fantasy in general, and we don’t need to do that right now. More to the point, now we have some kind of alpha royalty thing going on…but Brady’s dad is alive. So why is the other dude alpha? Based on the ending it seems like there’s a tradition of alphas retiring, but Brady’s only been in recovery for five years…Why couldn’t his father stay on as alpha for the time it took for Brady to sort himself out if he was expected to eventually take on his position? I’m glad Brady has a loving and supportive family, but this plot point would have made WAY more sense if someone had been required to fill a power vacuum at the time Brady had his DUI. 

🐾 Evelyn doesn’t shift, even to save herself. She’s extremely demure. I once read a shifter book that explained that once a shifter was pregnant, she had to stay in whatever form she was in until the cub was born because shifting didn’t translate to the fetus. (Just…set aside the science issues WRT implantation/zygote/blastocyst/embryo stages for now.) Wilder didn’t explain that, so the fact that Evelyn – an actual momma bear – didn’t shift to take care of herself and her fetus was…odd. Unless you just chalk it up to Evelyn being very much centered in her victim persona. In which case she didn’t really grow/change all that much in the course of the story. So I guess take that as you will.

🐾 For a guy who’s supposed to have great ideas and great leadership…I was not impressed with Brady’s plan to hide Evelyn away until the baby was born. If the current alpha was going to hurt a pregnant Evelyn to prevent an alpha cub from being born, what’s to stop him from doing the same to an infant? Brady’s plan is ultimately to become alpha but… this plan is a whole mess. But it does create, like, all of the drama that leads to the climax, so what can you do?

At the end of the day this was pretty good as a quick, mildly dramatic read. And I do love some protagonists in their forties. And everyone does not need to be a macho alpha who acts like a caveman or a fierce badass who takes on any fight, so even though the characterization felt odd, I did appreciate it for what it was. I’d have liked some more shiftery stuff in a shifter book, but bringing out the animal at the dramatic moment is fine, too, I guess. 


Buy Now: Amazon


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