4 out of 4 stars
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Tonya Royston's debut young adult novel, Shadows at Sunset, is the first book of the Sunset Trilogy. I can already say without a doubt that I will be reading the next two books in the series when they become available. With just a touch of paranormal mystery and romance, Shadows at Sunset tells the story of not-so-average Laken Sumner and the not-so-normal start to her senior year of high school.
When she was a child, Laken discovered that she could communicate with wild animals, and she has spent most of her life befriending the wild bears and moose in the woods and mountains surrounding her small town in New Hampshire. Her best friend is a wolf, Dakota, who lives with her when he's not busy hunting in the wilderness. After a young boy goes missing in the woods without a trace, Laken turns to Dakota and the other wild animals for help, and she unwillingly becomes a local celebrity for finding him well off the beaten path in the mountains.
She manages to catch the attention of two particular new men in town: Noah, the new deputy working under her father (the Chief of Police), and Xander, the tattooed, motorcycle-riding bad boy who just moved from California. While trying to convince herself that Noah is the perfect guy for her, she can't deny how Xander keeps drawing her to him. Then Laken begins to suspect there is something more going on with him; it's such a coincidence that little boys go missing and then shadowed figures start appearing in the woods around her house at night. In her sleepy little town, Laken's life is suddenly in danger.
I could make a long list of the things I love about this book. The characters are likable and realistic; even Laken's ability to speak with animals is easy to believe, without being over-the-top or silly. The writing is superb and near flawless. The plot is attention-grabbing and makes the book difficult to put down. But my favorite part of this book is the setting. I've never experienced autumn in New England, but given the vivid descriptions, it's almost impossible not to imagine what it feels like to walk down a mountain trail surrounded by fall colors with a bear or moose casually roaming in the background. The heavy attention to detail of the setting allows for a relaxed-paced story, but I never once felt bogged down by all of this information. It was relevant and important to the story, given Laken's ability and her connection to nature and the wild animals around her.
The only thing I didn't much care for in the story was the ending. It felt too abrupt, without much of a resolution, which was a disappointment after such a thrilling lead up to the climax. I was practically on the edge of my seat, biting my fingernails in anticipation of some big revelation, but it never came. This might be one of the biggest cliffhangers I have ever experienced.
Despite my disappointment in the ending, I loved the rest of the book too much to knock off a whole point, so I give Shadows at Sunset a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend this book to those who love YA paranormal thrillers and romances, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!
Shadows at Sunset
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