Review – Still Life with Shape-Shifter by Sharon Shinn

Still Life with Shape-Shifter cover image
Publisher: Ace
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher

Melanie Landon and her half-sister share a unique bond. For her entire life, Melanie has hidden the fact that Ann is a shape-shifter. The never-ending deception is a heavy weight to bear, but Melanie is determined to keep Ann’s secret and protect her from a world that simply wouldn’t understand.

For months, Melanie hasn’t seen or heard from Ann, in either of her forms. When a man shows up saying he’s there about her sister, Melanie fears the worst. But Brody Westerbrook doesn’t have information about Ann—he’s in search of it.

A freelance writer, Brody intends to include Ann in a book he’s writing about the existence of shape-shifters. While Melanie is immediately drawn to the stranger on her doorstep, she denies his claims, knowing that trusting him isn’t an option.

But when Ann finally appears looking thin and sick, Melanie realizes exposure is the least of their worries. Protecting her sister has always been such an enormous part of Melanie’s life, but as Ann’s health rapidly deteriorates, Melanie must come to grips with the fact that saving her may mean letting go…
This blurb came from Goodreads.

I reviewed the first book of Shinn’s Shifting Circle series The Shape of Desire earlier this year. While that wasn’t my favorite of Shinn’s body of work, the world she built and the storyline were interesting enough that I was willing to read and review the second book. When I finished reading it after reaching for a few tissues all I could think that is Shinn has done it to me again. You do need to read the first one because several key characters are introduced there. This is a fantasy with romantic elements because the romance isn’t at the forefront. What is at the forefront is the relationship of family both by blood and by choice and what people will do out of that love regardless of how badly it hurts personally. Still Life with Shape-Shifter actually has three main couples. Two of which are followed closely while the third was already established and plays a major role in the development of the plot.

Melanie is a very determined woman. She has spent most of her life caring for her younger sister since she felt that her father and stepmother wouldn’t be able to do a good job. She has extended that care to include refusing to sell their childhood home to a local developer so Ann can find her way home. She also has a local job with flexible hours again allowing the ability to spend time with Ann when she is around. It was fascinating to see Melanie’s relationship with her best friend and other locals while contrasting that with her relationship with Brody. Melanie also had to make some extremely hard choices and I really felt for her as the story continued. Yet Shinn made sure to leave me with the hope that Melanie would heal emotionally and perhaps spread her caring to others she hasn’t yet met.

Brody, first introduced in The Shape of Desire as an obnoxious (well I found him that way) reporter had gone through some interesting learning lessons before this novel started. His treatment after breaking the story on shape-shifters and the research he did on his own gave Brody a new perspective. As a result I gradually started overcoming my initial dislike of him so that by the end of the book he was one of my favorite characters. I liked how he insisted on considering Melanie’s feelings about his actions before he continued his interactions with Ann. At first I couldn’t quite understand why he was being so considerate but when he told Melanie the point that he fell in love with her I could completely understand. He was so gentle with both Ann and Melanie while continuing to find out information that I could see how he was able to get information from other people. I have to admit I was worried about what he was going to do with everything he learned despite his stated intention to not include any identifying information in his novel but his character ended up truly wonderful.

Melanie and Brody’s interactions and growing relationship is interposed with one between Janet and Cooper. Janet and Cooper are the second relationship that is really followed almost in alternating chapters. While I was reading I did wonder what their significance was but Shinn pulled everything together at the end. I can’t reveal what that is because it is a major spoiler. Janet is human and Cooper is a shape-shifter she encounters one night. Their relationship ends up changing the path of her life with very drastic results. They also provide a lot of interesting information about shape-shifters and add to the world building. Shinn was able to keep me engrossed in both couples despite the alternating chapters or making me think I was reading two completely separate stories. That technique can be difficult to pull off without confusing the reader and it is a measure of Shinn’s skill that she was able to use it effectively.

Threaded though everything is Ann’s relationship and life with William. William is another shape-shifter. He played a key role in the first book and seemed almost feral there. It was amazing what a change love made in his personality. Not just love for Ann but love for his family. I think it also made a difference that Melanie was so accepting of her sister. It was also good to see the couple from the previous book again and find out how William’s baby niece was doing. Their inclusion was natural continued to build the sense started in the first book that shifter family groups are actually rare and need to be anchored by a full-human. Shinn also uses the couples in this story to point out how hard it is on that human, not just worrying and protecting their loved ones from discovery but also from some of the health issues caused by shifting.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is that Shinn anchored it in real-life and included humor. I got a kick out of the gatherings at the local eating places, the birthday party, and how wonderful grandmothers can be. Ann also had me cracking up at times as she acted the younger sister anxious for her older sister to be happy. If happiness meant Melanie in a relationship with Brody than Ann was going to do what she could to encourage it. The humor was needed because some of the issues included are serious and resulted in tissues. I also liked how all of the main characters showed growth throughout the story.

Shinn has proven once again why I have had her on my auto-buy list since I first discovered her years ago. I was sucked into this story and found that with the majority of the world-building completed her deft ability with characters came back to the forefront. This isn’t your typical shape-shifter world or books and I enjoy the differences. I do continue to recommend that you do not start this series with this book because of the complex world and the previous character development.

I give Still Life with Shape-Shifter a B.

Links to purchase
Amazon | Kindle | BN | Nook

8 thoughts on “Review – Still Life with Shape-Shifter by Sharon Shinn”

  1. I’ve never read anything by this author but her books look like something I would enjoy. She has a ton of book for sale on Amazon. Any advice on where to start? I see a couple of diferent series (Samaria and Twelve Houses) and a lot of what I’m assuming are stand alones. Would you mind sharing a few of your favorites?

  2. I loved this book! I had not read the first one (but have since read) so I had no expectations (which helped with accepting Brody). The book is not your normal shapeshifter paranormal (no kick-ass heroine or torture Pack hero), but it is so good and a different way of looking at the entire genre of shape-shifters (maybe i just read too much of the same type tho). Loved that Melanie could be any normal person who is forced to make tough decisions. I agreed with all of the relationships but the one that resonated the most with me was Melanie and Ann. Great book. The first one was good too, but this one is the one I still think about. I saw on Shinn’s website that she has another one (but she said it won’t come out until 2014). Great review!

  3. @Ann F.: Oh man where to start. First thanks for asking this question. I think it is my favorite! She does have several standalone novels. I think overall it depends on what you are in the mood for. Out of her standalones my two favorites are Caught in Crystal and Troubled Waters (no longer a standalone, the sequel is probably coming out next year) with Summers at Castle Auburn a close third. I like those because their worlds are so distinct and separate, the issues the characters have and the characters themselves have so many layers. Caught in Crystal is a murder mystery, while the other two are more fantasy and deal with the messy politics of royalty. The heroine in each of those is never the “Queen” or “Princess” but a relative which makes it even more fun to me. If you have read and enjoyed Jane Eyre then you will probably like Jenna Starborn. Heart of Gold deals with two human races warring against each others and the individuals who try to cross the boundaries between the two to bring the world back to its senses. It is also good but not one that I re-read.

    For her series the Samaria series is the first one she wrote. It deals with a population that many thousands of years ago settled a planet. They have several different races to include angels. They have a Christianish religion that focuses worship on singing. At a certain time intervals members of all of the races must meet at a particular location and sing certain prescribed songs lead by the Archangel and his/her consort. Archangels rule for a certain number of years and then they pass rule to another one who leads the ceremony that year. If they do not participate in this ceremony then the world will end. Angels are also the only ones who can ask for blessings, medicine, rain, etc by singing the prayer requests. Of course not everyone in the world believes… There are some interesting twists and turns in this series. It doesn’t preach or try to convert the reader but if you are offended by books that have a Christianish religion as the forefront of their entire society than you might want to skip them. I like the Twelve Houses series the best because it has action, adventure, magic, characters, the same primary cast of characters that grow throughout the series, sadness, struggle, sword-fighting, and romance. I re-read them all often. In fact when I pushed Shinn on my mother I started with this series.

    I have to admit that I haven’t read any of her Young Adult novels so I can’t say much about them. I have read most of her novellas and found that she provides the same attention to detail to the world and the characters as she does with her novels.

    I hope this helps and if you have any specific questions please feel free to email me. e DOT bookpushers AT gmail DOT com

  4. @nicole1000: Thanks :). I agree this isn’t the typical shapeshifter world or like you not the ones I tend to read. I do look for different set-ups they are just rare. Glad you liked the review and enjoyed reading the books too.

  5. Barb in Maryland

    For Ann F–depends on what you like(sorry for such a vague answer!). The 12 Houses books are straight fantasy with a lot of magic in a world that is very suspicious of magic. Lots of court politics. and a great romance or two or three.
    The Archangel books have a very different feel. You have the ‘fated mates’ thing going, a strong religious sub-plot, politics, etc.
    The two best stand-alones. IMO, are ‘Wrapt in Crystal’ which is almost a police procedural/fantasy and ‘Heart of Gold’ which examines racial politics. Both have strong romance sub-plots.

    Shinn is autobuy in hardback for me for her adult level books. I find her YA’s a bit more problematic–some really good and some merely so-so.

    I am in awe of the scope of her imagination and world building. The only author I’ve found who does as well at world-building is Martha Wells.

  6. Thank you both for the recommendations. I just bought the first in the Twelve Houses series and we’ll see how it goes. I love fantasy books with some romance in them. I don’t know how I’ve missed this author!!

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