Before I get into the review of the narration for the audio version, let's talk about the story itself. The premise of Shifting Dreams is thus:
"As foreign as the canyon had felt only minutes before, Cambio Springs was just a little town. Half populated by ordinary people and half populated by people who turned into animals and ate murderers for sport. And those were the respectable ones."
Cambio Springs is a small desert town full of big secrets--and home to a shifter community that values tradition and loyalty. The shifters of Cambio Springs guard their secrets closely, so when outsider Caleb Gilbert arrives to take over as Chief of Police, balances are shifted and change comes to town. Jena Crowe already has her hands full with a never-ending workload at her diner and two young boys, for one of whom a first shift is imminent. The arrival of the handsome new Chief of Police throws a wrench in the normalcy of her busy life, and she's not quite sure what to do about it.
When conflict arises and brings death to Cambio Springs, Caleb and Jena must face the threat--and their growing attraction for one another--together, before all is lost.
One of the things I loved about this book was, for all that it's a fantasy novel, the characters are believable and familiar. Jena behaves exactly as you'd expect from a busy, single mom with secrets and children to protect. The mom in me recognizes the mother in her, and it made it that much easier to lose myself in the world of the novel. I could easily identify with Jena Crowe, although I do not (to the best of my knowledge) possess the ability to shift into a bird.
"I'm a very modern man. In touch with my feelings and all that shit."
I found the character development, especially for Caleb, to be beautifully handled. Caleb is at once incredibly sexy and inherently paternal, and Hunter seamlessly moves from steamy scenes against an Airstream trailer (or in the desert in the middle of the night) to fatherly responses to a 7 year old demanding quarters for the curse jar in the midst of an emotionally charged and stressful situation. I absolutely loved the combination of lover and father in Caleb. I also enjoyed the fact that, despite his differences from the rest of the shifting community, once he drinks from the spring, Caleb's behavior becomes increasingly animalistic. All of these nuances made it so very easy to love Caleb Gilbert.
"You fit, Jena Crow", he whispered. "Like the right pair of shoes."
I had no trouble losing myself in the world of Cambio Springs. Shifting Dreams is the perfect balance of fantasy, mystery and romance, with no single aspect overwhelming the others. I appreciated the believable development of the fantastical elements, and recognized the Native American lore and cultural references. There were multiple believable suspects, and the "whodunit" aspect of the novel was nicely handled. I also loved that the relationship between Jena and Caleb developed at a nice pace, and sex scenes were handled tastefully (they were hot, but without crude anatomical terms, and they didn't overwhelm the plot). It was also refreshing to see Hunter handle Jena and Caleb's relationship with some realism.
"Her lips were cracked from the dry hospital air. His face was rough with stubble, but it was perfect."
As I think most of us know, love does not always mean sunshine and roses, and I saw that reflected clearly in this novel. The love between Jena and Caleb is perfect because it's real.
The only negative I have about the story itself was the ending. Chapter 30 was beautiful. The character dynamics were flawless, the story was wonderfully concluded, and I was left with warm fuzzies. And then Chapter 31 was thrown in. I understand that it was written to introduce us to the storyline for the characters in the next Cambio Springs installment, but I think, as amazing as Chapter 30 was, it would have been better to end on that note and roll the character/storyline foundation for the next book in the beginning of the next book. That being said, I can't wait to read Alex and Ted's story in Desert Bound!
As much as I loved the story in Shifting Dreams , I did not love the narration of the audio book.
The whole narration was, in general, very terse and stern, and the narrator's voice seemed a little old for an early 30 something protagonist. I often felt like I was listening to my mother, which made the steamy scenes a little awkward. It was actually distracting enough to keep me from enjoying the story at some points, because all I could think about was how the narrator's voice didn't fit the characters.
I did think the narrator, Liisa Ivary, did a nice job with Ali's quiet, gentle voice, as well as Bear's innocent energetic kid voice. In fact, in Chapter 29, when Bear says, "Mom", I literally got chills. It was incredibly well done.
Although I didn't love the narration, I think it's clear that it didn't detract enough for me to not absolutely love this amazingly crafted story. 5 thumbs up! (Don't ask how that's possible. I'm a mom...)