Review: SHADOWS AT SUNSET by Tonya Royston

Shadows at SunsetShadows at Sunset by Tonya Royston

Black Opal Books August 2015 4 Stars

Blurb: She never thought her ability to communicate with wild animals was anything more than a unique gift. But this gift is tied to a long history of secrets that threaten to shatter her one chance at true love…

Laken Sumner isn’t your average teenager. Ever since she realized that wild animals could hear her thoughts, she’s spent more time in the woods with them than with other children. Even her wolf is a better friend to her than most people. She trusts him—so much so that she follows him out into the wilderness in the middle of the night to find a lost little boy. But the boy’s disappearance is only the beginning. The one bright spot in her life is Noah Lawson, the handsome new town deputy. Charming and mature, he almost seems too good to be true. Then she meets Xander Payne, the new boy at school, who seems to know something about her. But how could that be possible? As strange things begin to happen in her sleepy New England town, Laken wonders if Xander has something to do with it. Or is it just a coincidence that danger targets her soon after he arrives?

Review: This was a fun read. What’s not to like about 17-year-old Laken Sumner who can literally talk to animals? Granted, it’s only the wild ones but since she lives close to the woods near her New England town, that works for her especially when she and her pet wolf save a missing little boy. This is only the start of an ongoing mystery since her father, the town sheriff soon discovers a murder victim in the forest. Is he the one who abducted the child? If so, why?

This isn’t the only mystery needing to be solved. Noah Lawson is the new deputy in town and Laken finds herself attracted to him, but her pet wolf, Dakota has his suspicions. Since this is the start of a trilogy, readers will have to wait to learn whether Dakota is right or Laken may be in more jeopardy than she thinks. Personally, I’m opting for the wolf’s opinion. Something about this guy just makes me suspicious, but that’s okay since I also have doubts about the other new boy, Xander Payne. Both these fellows pursue Laken pretty much as soon as they meet her and while she’s too young as a high school senior to worry about their motives, I worry enough for both of us.

Laken is a very likeable character and as a twist in the plot, she has two best friends, Ethan, the boy next door and Brooke, a bubbly extrovert who knows how to find the best parties around and insists Laken and Ethan join her at these extravaganzas. The three stand by each other, seeming more like siblings than buddies. They are the only ones outside of the family who know the truth about Dakota which seems a bit of a stretch. Since Laken’s uncle brought the wolf pup to his niece, wouldn’t the neighbors have seen it back then? What about the cops who worked with him? Wouldn’t they wonder what happened to the animal or even ask? These questions haven’t been answered yet, but maybe later since this is the first book in a trilogy. Still the characters are always consistent, not an easy skill for a debut writer, but Ms. Royston shines here.

In addition, she provides hints that the ensemble cast will also grow and change, something that is especially welcome since much of the story revolves around activities at the high school. In addition, she effectively builds a beautiful world with an assortment of wild animals that Laken befriends. Descriptions of the setting don’t overshadow the story and while the pacing falters at times, for the most part it will keep readers engaged. For the most part, although this is a paranormal story, it felt realistic with authentic issues, but more eerie events would have added to the tension. Still, it will be hard to wait until 2016 for the next installment.

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the October 2015 edition of The Book Breeze.