Review: Shifter by Alma Alexander

Shifter Book Cover Shifter
Alma Alexander

My name is Saladin van Schalkwyk.

And yes, there is a story behind that name.

I was not an accident; I was a chimera, both in name and deep into my DNA.

I was created.

I did not know for what purpose, and the secrets that surrounded my past were too well guarded for me to break through.

So when my friend Mal offered to take the chance of becoming a Lycan in order to infiltrate their ranks and find out the truth for me, I agreed to help him in any way I could.

We both learned far more than we had bargained for. And one thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about myself was wrong.

Review:

*This review contains spoilers for Random and Wolf, the first two books in the Were Chronicles.*

I received a free ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

When I sat down to begin Shifter, the final novel in Alma Alexander’s Were Chronicles trilogy, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d enjoyed Random and Wolf, the first two books, and expected I would like Shifter very much as well. I expected a funny, devil-may-care protagonist who would make me chuckle, wrap up the trilogy in a neat little bow, and leave me to put the book aside at the end and continue merrily on my way.

Here’s what I did NOT expect: to be presented with a bold, caring, noble protagonist who would win my heart, move me to tears, and leave me, more than a week after finishing Shifter, still reeling and struggling to regain my emotional equilibrium.

Shifter is by far the best novel in the Were Chronicles, though I’ll admit I didn’t come to this conclusion right away. Each book in the trilogy is narrated by a different character and starts with an extensive recap of the events of the previous book(s) from the current narrator’s point of view. This can get repetitive, and even though Shifter is told from the perspective of Saladin “Chalky” van Schalkwyk, my favorite character in the series, I was initially frustrated that I seemed to be re-reading an old story rather than getting a new one. There are new details on Chalky’s childhood – what it was like growing up with his paranoid and mentally unfit mother, how he came to Turn for the first time, what his life was like as a young hacker – but the key points of the plot aren’t “new” until approximately 75% into the book.

Once Shifter catches up to where Wolf ended, though, things get good. Really good. There’s the re-emergence of the hateful Barbican Bain, with whom Chalky interacts personally. There’s a slip-up that has dire consequences for Were-kind in general and Chalky and the Marshes in particular. There’s escalated anti-Were violence and paranoia. And, as Chalky points out, “at the center of it all, there was that primal terror – not of what the Were-kind actually were, but of what they could be.”

Even if the action hadn’t picked up the way it did, Chalky as a narrator still would have been enough to make Shifter my favorite book in the Were Chronicles. I liked Chalky in Random and Wolf, finding his humor and craftiness appealing, but it wasn’t until Shifter that I had the opportunity to peer into his inner workings and realize that there’s so much more to Chalky than simply being Mal’s clever techy friend. Beneath his jaunty demeanor is a profound loneliness and a desire to be part of a family. He’s one of a kind, for better or worse, always on the fringes of society:

“I did think for a moment that it might be better for everyone if I never Turned back into Saladin van Schalkwyk, the human misfit who was so very wary and lonely and alone in that life. Perhaps I could just stay as this bird, from now on, and I might never have to think about any of that other stuff again. Nobody would ever hit me, or look at me as though I was the cause of everything bad that had happened to them. They wouldn’t resent me or think of me as a burden or a nuisance, or even a reminder of things that might have been but never came to pass. I would be free.”

Being the only one of his kind comes with a certain accountability. As the Spiderman movies proclaim, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and Chalky is the most powerful Were alive. He is pivotal to the events of all three books in the Were Chronicles, and though other characters play important roles in the adventure, the series couldn’t possibly take place without Chalky’s skills as a hacker and his ability to shift into whatever form is needed. By virtue of his unique gifts, he becomes the guardian angel that watches over the Marsh family and everyone else who crosses his path, taking care of them because he’s the only one who can do so.

I was intellectually interested in the plights and philosophical questions in Random and Wolf, but it wasn’t until I viewed the story through Chalky’s lonely, yearning, white-knight lens that I was impacted on an emotional level. In the scene where Celia is reunited with her siblings after years of absence, for example, I actually got choked up. I’d read this scene once before in Wolf, and it hadn’t really affected me. When shown through Chalky’s eyes, though, it brought me to tears.

One thing I’ve always found captivating about the Were Chronicles is the way Alexander portrays the logistics and consequences of Turning. This is especially compelling in Shifter, as Chalky isn’t encumbered by the same “rules” as the rest of Were-kind. His abilities are above and beyond those of other Were, but so are the repercussions of using these abilities. Here are a couple of snippets:

“My innards felt churned up, as though all my major organs were still deciding where they properly went after they’d been forced to play do-si-do in various body forms with such intensity over a shatteringly short period of time.”

And:

“There was a trade-off when it came to Were changes. Things had to be kept in balance … Much smaller creatures – like for instance a mouse, the shape I was in now – paid for the loss of mass by an increase in metabolism – we were hyper-charged mice, if you like. Our heart rates were much higher than an ordinary mouse. The wear and tear on our insides was enormous; we literally had to give up physical substance to drop into something that could weigh one hundredth or less of our human form, and that had to go somewhere. We paid for it with an acceleration of energy and metabolism. Our small forms lived faster. If we stayed in a small form for too long we could – probably literally – explode our hearts.”

Much as I loved Shifter, there were some parts that didn’t work for me. The ending is rushed, with several events not fleshed out to my satisfaction. Likewise, an important relationship is established without having sufficient time to develop; the reader is required to simply take the author’s word for it that said relationship makes sense. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing in general, and you’re asked to take it on faith that the friendship between Chalky and Mal is deeply rooted and that the two have had many meaningful bonding moments beyond what’s directly witnessed in the books.

None of these things matter, though, in light of how much of an emotional punch Shifter packs, especially in the last few chapters. Alexander’s writing is gorgeous and insightful, and she uses it to full advantage. I’m always sad when I finish a great story, but as I wrote to Alma Alexander in a Facebook message while in the throes of book withdrawal, “I just finished Shifter and now I have to cancel my plans for the day to eat chocolate and cry!” The best books leave a hole in you when they’re over, and Shifter certainly left a gaping void in me. 

The experience is worth it, though. And look at it this way – once you’re finished you can always go back and re-read the book’s perfect last line over and over again to bring yourself comfort, as I’ve been doing. So what are you waiting for? Go get some chocolate and start reading this book!

Giveaway and Cover Reveal: Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

It’s finally here – the cover reveal for Heart of the Guardian, the final installment of Desiree Williams’ Heart Song trilogy! As beautiful as the covers of Heart Song and Shifter’s Heart were, Heart of the Guardian is hands down my favorite; in fact, it’s probably one of the most stunning covers I’ve seen this year.  In addition to this great reveal, I’ve also got an excerpt for you from Heart of the Guardian, as well as the chance to win an awesome giveaway courtesy of the author herself. Cheers!

About Heart of the Guardian

The time has come. The war ends now…

Syrina’s inner energy has not been the same since the Guardian Alanna saved her that day in the market. A burning need to help others drives her to seek permission to join the caravan headed to the Rebels camp. Lady Alanna and Prince Jerric have given Syrina and her mother so much, and in return, Syrina wants to spread that kindness to the Guardian’s army in any way she can.

It was supposed to be another easy plan. Until an amber-eyed stranger flipped her life around, throwing her into the strange world of Guardians and Warriors. Now, Syrina faces challenges she’s never even dreamed of as the missing piece in the War on the Lands is found.

New enemies and allies surface in this never ending war. Syrina and the Guardians lock onto the measure of goodness they’ve been given while evil threatens to rip it from their hands.

When the battle hits home, nothing will be the same.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…the big reveal!

Book cover for Heart of the Guardian by Desiree Williams

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Excerpt from Heart of the Guardian

“Do you need your energy back?”

Syrina jumped at how close his voice came. Whipping around, she found Emer a few feet from her. She hadn’t expected him to address her again, or to close the distance between them. She swallowed, unable to look away from those amber eyes. “Excuse me?”

He pointed to the barrier still around him. “You energy? Do you want to pull it back?”

“Oh, um, you can hang on to it, if you’d like. The barrier will continue to move with you, and once you’re finished just stretch your arms past the border. The edges will dissolve and the energy dissipate into the air.”

Syrina opted for a friendly tone, but her response made Emer’s frown deepen—if that were possible. He crossed his arms, watching her until she wanted to squirm.

“What did you do to him?” He pointed his chin toward Janson, who was now in a jovial mood, showing off the wares he’d transported from Aldonnia.

She shrugged a shoulder. Syrina had no idea how she’d done it, so it wasn’t like she could explain it. Not that it would be wise to tell this Rebel anyhow. “Not sure I know what you mean.”

Her heart skipped several beats before a small half-grin pulled at Emer’s mouth. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what he’d look like if he truly smiled.

“You can keep your secrets, Miss Syrina. You’ll find we all have a trove full of them.” He strode past her, saying, “Welcome to the Rebels’ camp.”

Author Bio

Photo of Heart Song author Desiree WilliamsDesiree Williams is a dreamer by day and chocoholic by night. She lives in the beautiful state of Kentucky with her husband and daughter, where she juggles life as a wannabe supermom. Desiree is a lover of food and avoider of dirty dishes. She delights in making people laugh and strives to bring hope and love with her wherever she goes.

You can find out more about Desiree and her books at www.desireewilliamsbooks.blogspot.com.

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Giveaway

This is one giveaway you don’t want to miss – a lucky winner will receive a gorgeous rose gold heart pendant necklace, a $15 Amazon gift card, and Heart Song trilogy bookmarks. For a chance to win, enter the giveaway below. The winner will be announced on Desiree’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter account the morning of August 11.

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Review: Wolf by Alma Alexander

Wolf Book Cover Wolf
Alma Alexander

My name is Mal Marsh.

I was the oldest unTurned Were of my generation, waiting Turn after Turn for my own time... which never came. Until the day, driven by desperation and by the guilt I still carried concerning my sister Celia's tragic death, I decided it was time to stop waiting... and made a dangerous choice in the name of pride and fury.

Instead of remaining the Random Were that I was born... I enlisted the help of a friend, a creature beyond the strictly drawn boundaries of Were-kind, and chose to become a Lycan, a true wolf. I thought it would give me a chance to take my revenge on those I believed to be responsible for what had happened to my sister. Right until the moment I realized that things were much more complicated that I had ever believed possible... and that my choice might have far more repercussions than I had thought.

One thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about my family was wrong.

Review:

*Review may contain spoilers for Random, the first book in The Were Chronicles.*

Ten months. Ten. That’s how long I suffered in agony after finishing Random and its doozy of a cliffhanger ending. Ten slow, painful months to try to get over the shock, to daydream about the characters I was missing, and to speculate about what I could expect from the series’ next installment, Wolf.

Now that those ten (TEN!) months are finally over and the sequel has arrived, I can cheerfully report that Wolf is well worth the wait. It’s got everything I loved about Random – beautiful writing, fascinating characters, more information about the intriguing world of Were-kind – as well as an added bonus: it’s narrated by Mal, my favorite character from Random.

When I heard that Jazz Marsh’s moody, enigmatic older brother would be the point-of-view character in Wolf, I was giddy. In Random, Mal started out as a seemingly minor character, your stereotypical sullen, standoffish teenage boy. By the end, however, he surprised everyone – myself included – by Turning into a Werewolf and emerging as a major player in the Marsh family’s story as well as the story of Were-kind in general. My curiosity wasn’t just piqued, it was set aflame, and I couldn’t wait to see what lay in store for Mal in Wolf.

Wolf picks up the thread of Mal’s story and follows him to his new home among his fellow Werewolves, known as the Lycans. Whereas Random showed Were-kind interacting with non-shape-shifting humans in the world at large, Wolf is a microcosm, focusing solely on the inner workings of the Lycan community. The Lycan compound, with its strict hierarchies and jealously guarded secrets, is its own – exclusive – little world. The Werewolves have their own unique culture, prejudices, and standards, and woe to any who don’t abide by their rules.

In order for Mal to infiltrate their ranks and uncover the truth about Stay and its effects on Were like his sister, he must eschew his family, his upbringing, and everything he once knew. Becoming a member of the pack means forfeiting his choices and accepting all of the decisions the Alphas make for him. The pack chooses his college courses, his job, and even his mate. Yep, that’s right– even though he’s just 17, Mal is expected to marry a woman of the pack’s choosing and get to work producing little Lycan babies. Gotta start spreading that new, valuable DNA around, ya know?

I loved watching Mal come into his own over the course of this book, rolling with everything the Lycans throw at him, even the stuff wholly outside of his comfort zone. He grumbles, and struggles, and balks…and then he grits his teeth, puts his head down, and soldiers on, because it’s the only way for him to move forward. It was so rewarding to see this grouchy, self-pitying boy grow and mature and become someone I was so proud of.

Despite my fondness of Mal, or perhaps because of it, I was not a fan of Asia, the girl the Lycans choose to be Mal’s mate. Maybe it’s jealousy on my part, but Asia just seems too perfect: she’s gorgeous, wild, brilliantly intelligent, and always in control. I did initially enjoy the dynamic between her and Mal – their first interactions are fraught with understandable tension, what with both being strangers and being called to give up their dreams at the pack’s command. This tension soon gives way to affection, though, as the two quickly come to accept and even love one another. This transition from strangers to intimates happened too fast for me, and I would have liked the awkwardness and uncertainty to linger for a while longer, for the discovery of love to be gradual and even grudging.

My only other “complaint,” if you can call it that, is similar to one I had when reading Random. The diction and sentence structure, while lovely, don’t always match with the voices you’d expect the characters to have. Dialogue occasionally comes out sounding like philosophers engaging in a grand intellectual debate instead of two people carrying on a regular conversation, and even Mal’s internal monologues tend to read like dissertations at times. As I mentioned in my review of Random, though, Alma Alexander’s writing is so interesting and beautiful that it doesn’t really matter how lofty the tone is. For example, here’s a passage I found particularly insightful:

“My life was layered with these moments; if it could be dug into, like an archaeological site, there would be layers of ashes and waste left over from catastrophic volcanic disasters in between the fertile parts where something good or useful was happening.”

As Mal establishes himself within his new pack, he slowly begins to unravel the Lycans’ closely guarded secrets. The facts he discovers about Turning Houses and the Half-Souled make his skin crawl, and the more he uncovers – the closer he gets to finding out the truth about his sister – the greater the risk to himself and to his fledgling relationship with Asia. I enjoyed watching as the stakes were raised, plot twists popped up, and old friends and family from Random reappeared to lend Mal a helping hand.

If you enjoyed Random, I have no doubt you’ll be exceedingly pleased with Wolf. It’s a worthy progression of the series, and Mal is a protagonist you can root for, sympathize with, and even fall for. I’m so excited to see what’s next for Mal, his friends, and his family in The Were Chronicles’ final chapter and only hope the months fly by until book three is released!

A free ARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wolf: Guest Post by Alma Alexander

If you’ve read Random, Alma Alexander’s novel about a family of shape-shifters and their numerous secrets, odds are you’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the story’s sequel, Wolf. After the cliffhanger ending Alma tortured us with in Random, I couldn’t wait to get my greedy little paws on Wolf. Not only does it pick up following the shocking revelation of the first book, but it’s narrated by the character who intrigued me most in Random: Jazz Marsh’s mysterious older brother Mal.

A friend of mine recently confessed that she fell “a little bit in love” with Mal after meeting his character in the first book of The Were Chronicles, and I can’t say that I blame her. Mal is brooding and inscrutable, a curious amalgam of anger and guilt and wounded pride. He’s also one of the author’s all-time favorite characters, and she’s here today to share why.

About Wolf

WolfMy name is Mal Marsh.

Instead of remaining the Random Were that I was born…I enlisted the help of a friend, a creature beyond the strictly drawn boundaries of Were-kind, and chose to become a Lycan, a true wolf. I thought it would give me a chance to take my revenge on those I believed to be responsible for what had happened to my sister. Right until the moment I realized that things were much more complicated that I had ever believed possible… and that my choice might have far more repercussions than I had thought.

One thing was clear.

Everything I thought I knew about my family was wrong.

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Falling in Love

By Alma Alexander

When I first nutted out the storyline of The Were Chronicles in my head, I had, as usual, the most broad-strokes outline possible.

I don’t, as a rule, go in for detailed planning or outlining of my books, and I tend to find out what happens next in the same breathless fashion as my eventual readers do – they by reading and me by literally writing the next bit of the narrative. This can mean a very rollercoaster ride for the writer because there are often unexpected things that I never see coming until they flatten me. And boy howdy, did this happen with a vengeance when it came to this series.

These books evolved as a loose triad – not so much a trilogy as a triptych, a story arc seen and observed and most importantly reinterpreted by three different (VERY different!) POV characters.

Random, the first book in the series, showed up in the firm grip of young Jazz, who carried it with grace and humor and a sense of slow enlightenment. But for all that she was familiar territory, when it came to characters. I’m always writing books with strong female protagonists and the 15-year-old Jazz was (almost) a breeze. She was a known commodity, someone whose character I could simply sit down and pour out. She was funny and tragic and strong and beautiful and she was the rock on which I built my story.

But in “her” book, in Random, I also introduced her brother, Mal, the character who would become the POV character in book 2, Wolf. A 17-year-old boy who was tortured by things of a magnitude that would shatter a lesser being. He had to be so much, did Mal – he had to carry so much. And honestly, he was wholly strange in the sense that I had rarely – make that almost never before – written a full book from a male protagonist’s view of the world. He would be a challenge to portray accurately, sympathetically, and believably.

So I started writing his book, in his voice, and waited to see what would happen.

And what happened…was little short of miraculous.

I watched this little boy I had created from my own mind and heart and spirit. I watched him struggle to deal with the weight of the worlds I had laid on his narrow young shoulders, trying to come to terms with difficult things. I watched him *fail* to do that. I watched him turn into this utterly believable sulky, whiny, self-pitying teenage…BOY. A REAL boy. Someone whom I had no problem imagining stepping out of the pages of my book and existing in the real world. Many real people like him, I am almost certain of that, already do – or at least many like this difficult to like early character whom one reviewer has described as a “hostile witness.” That’s exactly what he is – he’s been shaped by forces which are titanic, by love and loss and a sense of inadequacy and self loathing for reasons he can do absolutely nothing about and by a shattering tragic guilt which overshadows his life to the point of threatening to permanently destroy him…until he finds a way to turn that guilt and that sense of personal failure into an ill-thought-out plan of personal revenge, in his own name and in the name of the beloved sister he has always believed himself responsible for the loss of.

And this is where his story really begins. Because at this point, I saw him struggle to deal with his demons, I saw him come face to staring face with one of them… and instead of falling or whining or sulking or doing anything at all that hearkened back to his earlier difficult teenage self, he stood up straight, looked everything in the eye, and TOOK IT ON. Against all odds, against any and all words of wisdom, against everything he knew – putting into jeopardy all of his plans – because he found something else, something bigger, something greater, something that demanded all of him…and he gave it. All.

Does that sound like I kind of fell in love with him at this point? You’d be right. I did. He was so strong, and yet so vulnerable, that everything in me rose to both applaud and protect him.

Perhaps it was that second impulse that breathed life into another character in this story.

I was the author. I was God. I was above and beyond this universe, and it seemed that all I could do for poor Mal was to keep piling grief on him. But inside the story lurked another difficult character, another rebel – Asia. Asia the half-Lycan, with her own dramas and burdens. A touch bitter, bowing down to pack loyalty and doing everything that the pack demanded of her…including being mated within the pack with the newcomer, the boy younger than she by a handful of years, the entity she half-disparagingly refers to as Wonderboy, and trying to make the best out of the situation…until everything crumbles around BOTH of them and she is forced to make an almost impossible choice: her pack, or her mate.

I could not help Mal, I could not save him, so I created this strong, savvy, fiercely intelligent, proud young she-wolf to run at his side. And no, she was not a Mary Sue. She was not, in any way, me. She was the character whom Mal needed to survive this story, and when he needed her she was there.

This is very much that thing which is known in the trade as a “coming of age” book – and both of these young people come of age within it. They are faced with difficult challenges that make them take adult decisions way before they are ready to do that – and they rise to the occasion. They are both adrift, lonely, alone, lost, trying to find a place to belong – but that’s the beginning of the book. By the end, they haven’t adapted themselves to the world – they forced the world into a new conformation which held a new and unexpected and wholly unique new place for them. They were also no longer alone. They weren’t standing back to back, forever looking in opposite directions. No, they were standing there, together, steady, hand in hand, staring the world and all of its demands down until it backs off.

It is not an easy place, and it’s likely to get harder. But it is theirs, and they are there together, and I think, with Asia at his side, that Mal can take anything on at this point. He’s still young but he’s a tempered sword, and he’s a deadly force to be reckoned with.

He is in so many ways a gift of a character – and yes, I fully realize that he can be difficult to like. That, I think, may be the point. He is flesh and blood – he is not a pretty picture painted to be admired by readers, he is there as a full equal to those readers, as real as they, someone they could wrench their eyes away from the book and easily recognize in someone standing right beside them in the “real” world in which they live. He is quite possibly the first male protagonist of mine who has carried the plotline of an entire novel on his own shoulders, and despite having had little practice at writing such characters…this one stepped out fully formed, and perfect. I am so ridiculously PROUD of him.

Mal is an unbelievably powerful character for all his being “difficult” – and by the end of the book, loving him, feeling this insane urge to run out and protect him against all the drama and mayhem that I myself unleashed upon him, it was the best I could do to give him someone like Asia, someone who lived in his world and who could love him and trust him and believe in him and work beside him as partner and as someone to love.

Mal will stay with me for a long time. For someone who never really existed outside the words on the page, he is instantly recognizable to me – I can close my eyes and he is with me, with those brooding eyes, that sardonic grin, that stubborn strength of character which brought him through everything, if not completely unscarred, then at least in one piece. I threw enough at him to break him and he would not break, he shouldered it all and stood tall under the burden and looked me in the eye and said, Damn you, I will survive this. Yes, I will, and all those whom I love, also. Do your worst. I will live. I will endure. I will not ever bend or break or stop being ME.

All I can do from here is smile, and nod, and whisper to Asia, Take good care of him. You won’t find his like again.

About the Author

Alma Alexander author photo

Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched 2000-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website, her Facebook page, or her blog.

Don’t forget to check back on Wednesday to read my review of Wolf!

Review: Shifter’s Heart by Desiree Williams

Shifter's Heart Book Cover Shifter's Heart
Desiree Williams

As the flames of Varkadon spread, war rips through the Shifter Territory…

With the Aldonnian kingdom celebrating the news of her brother’s soul bonding, Laelynn seizes every opportunity to drive herself to the brink of exhaustion. If her body is worn, then her brain would be too tired to dream. Laelynn knew the men who’d captured her were gone from this world, but that didn’t stop the haunting images from plaguing her mind. Not even the pesky thorn-in-her-side Shifter Prince could keep the dreams at bay. Though Dustan’s commentary through their mental bond had kept a lingering smile on her lips, despite the battles that rage within her.

Yet when Dustan distances himself Laelynn questions the connection between them. Those fears rise when her own talents begin to morph and grow into the unexpected. Torn between love and faith, Laelynn strives to find the purpose behind the evolving gifts. What she discovers is far more than she ever imagined.

As tragedy befalls the Shifter Territory and brother battles against brother, Laelynn knows what must be done. Face her demons and triumph, or she’ll never claim the song of her heart.

Review:

If you’re in search of a tender romance that also contains action and humor, you need look no further than Shifter’s Heart, the second book in the Heart Song trilogy by Desiree Williams. If Heart Song was a good book, then Shifter’s Heart is a great one. Williams really steps up her game in this installment, bringing to the table excellent descriptions, sweet but steamy relationships, and plenty of banter to keep you laughing even in the midst of a battle between good and evil.

The war that began in Heart Song between Aldonnia and the evil Varkadons continues in Shifter’s Heart. Alanna, Jerric, and their friends and family must rally their forces and hone their magical abilities if they have any hope of defeating the Varkadons and stopping their enemies’ reign of terror. This mission is a compelling one, but I found I was less interested in the fight to overcome the Varkadons than I was in the love story developing between Laelynn, Jerric’s sister, and Dustan, High Prince of the Shifters.

Dustan and Laelynn were my two favorite characters in Heart Song, so I was overjoyed when I realized they were going to be taking center stage in Shifter’s Heart. I’m gaga over Dustan – the mischievous shape-shifter is thoughtful, romantic, and hilarious, with a flair for drama and a talent for playing pranks and stirring up trouble. The margins of my ARC were filled with comments like “Geez, I love Dustan!” and “Oh, Dustan – you crack me up!” Laelynn is a gem, too. She’s loving and kind, but she has enough spunk and attitude to make her feel human and relatable.

Laelynn and Dustan make a great pair – I adored them as a couple. The physical relationships in the book are limited to kissing and cuddling, but Williams somehow manages to make the romance steamy AND sweet. You can feel the attraction between the characters, and it’s enticing without getting out of hand. I had a big grin on my face for much of the book, mostly due to this very fact.

There’s a lot more humor and banter in Shifter’s Heart than there was in Heart Song, something that I loved. Both Dustan and Laelynn cracked me up, and I loved how they interacted together. The teasing, joking, and sarcasm between them never gets old, and it made me laugh out loud at several points in the book. Here’s a scene where Laelynn (who can control plants) is playfully arguing with Dustan:

“You’re insufferable, you know that?”

“It’s what you love most about me.” Dustan nuzzled Laelynn’s cheek, pressing his nose along her jaw line while she fought to shove him off. Vines leapt from nearby plants, tangling around Dustan’s waist, lifting him off the ground.

His gray eyes glowed silver at being captured, and a slow smile tipped the corners of his mouth. “Contain yourself, beloved. You’re only supposed to tie me up when we’re–”

A large leaf smacked over Dustan’s mouth, muffling the remaining words.

The only thing thing I wasn’t crazy about in Shifter’s Heart was something that also bothered me in Heart Song, and it’s more personal preference than anything else. Although I love romance, I’m not wild about books that read like romance novels; the language tends to be a little too cheesy. There are times when Shifter’s Heart skirts romance-novel-language territory, like when characters’ souls are supposedly calling out to one another or when eyes are constantly described as “blazing with love.” Still, this sort of thing is minor compared to all the other, beautiful aspects of the love story.

In addition to writing a compelling romance, Williams also excels at writing beautiful descriptions and poignant, hopeful scenes. I have several passages underlined in my ARC simply because I loved how they were worded. The chapters set in the Shifter territory are particularly lovely:

The trees broke apart to reveal a small clearing ahead. Dustan dropped her hand as he waded alone into the waist-high grass dotted with orange and yellow wildflowers. A gust of wind stirred the long stems, their fragrance swirling around her in a welcoming embrace, beckoning her to enter the field.

Isn’t that just gorgeous? And it’s just one of many exquisitely-written scenes!

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel to Heart Song. Williams has really grown as an author, presenting a delightful novel that will make its readers laugh, cry, and swoon in turns. I can’t wait to read the final installment to find out what new joys Williams has in store!

A free ARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.