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.

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Guest Post: Shifter’s Heart by Desiree Williams

Blog tour banner for Shifter's Heart by Desiree Williams

I’m happy to participate in the blog tour for Shifter’s Heart, the second book in the Heart Song trilogy by Desiree Williams! Shifter’s Heart was released last week, and I can’t recommend it enough – it’s an exciting romance with great humor, likable characters, and a love story that’s equally steamy and sweet. In a nod to this wonderful romance, I’ve asked Desiree if she’d be willing to do a guest post on love and relationships, and she’s kindly obliged.

After reading her advice, don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post – you could win a great prize pack with jewelry and gift cards!

Desiree’s Tips for a Good Relationship

Photo of Heart Song author Desiree WilliamsHello, everybody! Before we get started, I want to personally thank Angela for allowing me to guest post on her blog today. It really is an honor.

Go pull up a chair and hang out, as we chat about two tips for a good relationship.

I insert a laugh right here because most guys shudder when they hear the term—relationship. Either they’re commitment-phobes, jaded to what love could be like, or they don’t want anyone to read past their tough-guy facade to know that, deep down, they’re a big softy. But in reality everyone wants a relationship at some point in time. Life was meant to be shared with someone we love.

I’ve worked with a lot of teens and young adults, and have seen their ups and downs with relationships. As a writer, my imagination wanders to what the relationships could be like for my characters. When I set out to create each story, I want the characters to have something that goes deeper than the physical. An unbreakable connection.

Now, don’t get me wrong, all the tingly feelings and stolen kisses are great. They make us smile and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But if that’s all the relationship is based on, then there isn’t any depth. It won’t be long lasting.

Tip #1: Be emotionally invested.

A good relationship is solid when the two individuals are emotionally connected, in a way that they know the other individual. They know their likes, dislikes, what they crave, what they aspire to become/achieve—they know because they’ve invested the time to listen. That’s not a razz on the guys, girls are just as guilty for not being invested listeners.

Challenge #1: Order a meal for your significate other the next time you go out to eat, without asking them what they want first. And please don’t go through the fast food land. Choose something nice! =) If you can successfully order their meal by knowing ahead of time their likes and dislikes, then that’s a good sign you are—or are on the path to becoming—emotionally invested.

Tip #2: Be YOURSELF

There is too much pressure to be “perfect.” I’ll tell you right now, being perfect is overrated. Save the time, energy, heartache, and just be yourself. How can someone truly get to know you, when you aren’t even being you? Be unique, be YOU, because you are the one and only you.

Challenge #2: When you’re getting all fancied-up for your dinner to complete Challenge #1, ask yourself: am I dressing to impress myself, or am I dressing to impress everyone else? If it’s the latter, please stop. You are precious and worthy and don’t need the validation of someone else to give you self-worth. (And insert sappy virtual hug here. =))

So, do you dare to take up my challenges? Hmm? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

Special thanks again to Angela for allowing me to stop by. I had so much fun. Blessings!

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

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About Shifter’s Heart

Book cover for Shifter's Heart by Desiree WilliamsAs 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 growth 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.

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Giveaway

Desiree is giving away a lovely Origami Owl bracelet, a $10 Amazon gift card, and a $10 iTunes gift card! For a chance to win, enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter form below. The winner will be announced on Desiree’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter account the morning of February 7.

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Review: Random by Alma Alexander

Random Book Cover Random
Alma Alexander

My name is Jazz Marsh.

I am a Random Were, which means I am a Were of no fixed form – like all Random Were, my family can become any warm-blooded creature which is the last thing they see before they Turn. For me, when my time came, that meant… trouble.

I was quite young when I lost my older sister, Celia, and my family never spoke about her. It was only when I found the secret diaries that she had left behind that I began to discover the truth behind her life and her death.

I never understood what drove my moody and dangerous older brother until I began to get an inkling about his part in Celia’s death… and until, driven to the edge of patience and understanding, he finally had to face his own Turn problems… and disastrously took matters into his own hands.

One thing is clear.

Everything I thought I knew about Were-kind was wrong.

Review:

When you read the word “Were-kind,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably an image of a werewolf. This isn’t surprising given the wealth of wolf lore out there, from An American Werewolf in London and The Wolfman to Teen Wolf and Twilight. In Random, however, Alma Alexander introduces a whole different kind of Were and a rich culture to go with it.

There are characters who Turn into wolves during the full moon, sure, but there are a multitude of others who transform into cats, bats, crows – even chickens. There’s also a subset of Were-kind who don’t have a set animal form, instead changing into the last warm-blooded animal they see before the Turn. The novel’s protagonist, almost-13-year-old Jazz Marsh, is one of these so-called Random Were and experiences her first Turn at the beginning of the book.

Jazz’s transformation is premature and…well, let’s just say “unorthodox” so as to avoid spoilers. This early Turn may or may not have been triggered by the stress in Jazz’s life, stress that comes from the heap of secrets and misfortunes that the Marshes have accumulated over the years. To start, there are Jazz’s overprotective parents – immigrants from the Old World where the Were were hunted and persecuted – who keep Jazz sequestered at home. There’s also Mal, her moody older brother who’s still embarrassingly un-Turned at the age of 17. And then there’s Celia, the sister Jazz barely knew who died young and is mourned but never talked about in the Marsh home.

When Jazz stumbles upon Celia’s old diaries, she’s introduced to a version of her sister – and the world – that she never knew existed. Celia describes her family’s experiences as new immigrants, adopting new names, learning a second language, struggling to find employment, and never, ever being allowed to forget they don’t belong. Even worse than being a foreigner is being a foreigner who also happens to be Were; as Celia’s diaries reveal, many Normals – non-shapeshifting humans – are clearly prejudiced against Were-kind.

Strict laws require Weres to carry identification at all times and to be contained in government-approved holding areas during their Turns. The unfortunate Weres without access to a private Turning facility must report to the ghastly Turning Houses, where conditions are bleak, to say the least. Injustice takes place even at school. Celia is bullied by her classmates and discriminated against by her teachers. Life becomes nearly unbearable under their torment, and poor Celia can confide in no one but her diary, which she does until her untimely death.

These diaries open Jazz’s eyes to the plight of Weres in general and her deceased sister in particular. As she describes, “Those diaries sucked me in like a whirlpool; I drank in the poison of Celia’s life in great gulps, and I could feel it changing me as I did that.” Not surprisingly, the diaries raise many questions for Jazz. Why and how do the Were transform? Why don’t they remember the time they spend as animals? How can you hold on to your sense of self when your identity is fluid? Do animals, and therefore the Were, have souls? As Jazz seeks answers to these questions, she discovers that the more she learns, the less she seems to understand about Were-kind, or even her own family.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Random isn’t just a story about shapeshifters, it’s a story about humanity. It’s about what it means to be a member of a family, a culture, a race. This is an ambitious undertaking, but Alexander handles it with grace and skill. There were times when I found it challenging to keep up with all of the plot points and cause-and-effect relationships, but the story was well worth the effort.

As great as the plot is, what really made me fall in love with Random is the way Alexander writes. There’s a beauty to her language, an intelligence and insight. Take this line, for example: “I looked at her and I saw an ocean; I looked at myself in the mirror and I saw a suburban fishpond with a couple of tired koi swimming around in circles.” Her voice is comforting and warm, like snuggling up in front of a crackling fire with a mug of hot cocoa; if I could wrap her words around myself like a fuzzy blanket, I totally would.

The only downside to Alexander’s writing is that it doesn’t always seem in character for someone Jazz’s age. Many times Jazz comes across sounding more like a college professor than a pre-teen. I don’t know any 12-year-olds who say things like, “[H]e would do so by apportioning blame and justification of ‘defense’ against the encroaching Other that threatened his own world view,” for example. Still, the fact that the writing is so smart and lovely makes this easy to overlook.

Something else I appreciated was the humor in the book. Despite the weighty subject matter, there’s plenty of levity to keep you smiling as you read. Much of this humor comes from Jazz’s attitude, particularly towards her parents and brother. She’s funny, passionate, and mischievous in turns, and I found it very easy to like her.

In fact, all of the characters appealed to me. I really liked Mal, who, though very brooding, sulky, and resentful, is undeniably interesting. I couldn’t get enough of him, nor of the other supporting characters, like Jazz’s friend Charlie and his mother Vivian, who is also the Marsh family’s caretaker while they’re in their Were forms.

The great characters, fascinating Were culture, and lyrical prose all guarantee that I’ll be reading the next book in the Were Chronicles trilogy as soon as it’s available. Alexander is a thoughtful, inventive, and articulate author, and I can’t wait to see what else she has in store for Jazz and her family.

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

Check back tomorrow for an interview with Alma Alexander and a chance to win a free copy of Random!