Reviewed by: E
When everything you’ve longed for is standing right in front of you, would you find the courage to chase it when you’ve given up on dreams?
Fox shifter Alison Smith gave up on happy endings when her ex-husband walked out, but that didn’t mean she was allowed to give up on happiness. With four growing kids, Allie is determined to look on the bright side and carry on, even when life seems to keep kicking the girl who’s fallen down.
Four kids, two jobs, and a pile of debt left over from her ex seem overwhelming most days. Luckily, Allie has the best friends a girl could ask for. Especially a certain quiet bear who’s always been her rock.
Patient. Oliver Campbell knows what it means to be patient. But twenty years of wanting one unavailable woman may have pushed him to the edge. With Allie working every night at his bar, their friendship has begun to fracture.
Then old ghosts offer one more kick to the little family that’s already down, and patience is a virtue Ollie can no longer afford. Allie’s ex-husband may be gone, but his actions are haunting his family. With danger licking the borders of Cambio Springs, the bear and the fox will have to work together. And twenty years of unspoken truths may finally come to light.
This blurb came from Goodreads
I have started several of Hunter’s series in the past and each time I do, I remind myself I really need to finish off her backlist because I enjoy her writing. I happened to catch a tweet about the first book in this series Shifting Dreams being on sale. So I broke my book buying hiatus and gave it a try. Right after I finished I promptly caved and bought book 2 Desert Bound. After finishing Desert Bound I decided I should let Hunter know I enjoyed the first two and inquire about when the third would be available. She was nice enough to let me get my fingers on this early and is sponsoring an international giveaway so keep reading.
The Cambio Springs series currently consists of three novels and two short stories. I highly recommend you read the previous two novels before starting this one because each builds on events of the previous stories. If you haven’t read them yet, this review will contain some spoilers for those novels but I will try to keep them to a minimum. Cambio Springs is a small dying town set deep in the Mojave Desert. It takes its name from the seven hidden springs, which provide drinking water, hot springs, and a special property to descendents of the town’s founders. The original families, a mix of different cultures and ethnicities were fleeing war and persecution when they stopped in Cambio Springs and decided to stay. After a while they noticed they had both the ability and the need to shapeshift, and it passed onto their children. In addition they gained longer lives but it came with several prices. Those who left usually found themselves needing to return to the one place they did not have to hide their dual nature. They also discovered those who never gained the ability to shift in adolescence died at a very young age from some health ailment.
I really liked several things about Hunter’s worldbuilding in this series. Her shapeshifters did take on the nature/qualities of their animals but were able to mostly co-exist. The Council of Elders had a senior representative from each group – Bears, Felines, Canines, Reptiles, and Birds. Each had a general area of their own but they mingled in day to day living. Like non-shifting human towns, Cambio Springs had its fair share of good, bad, useless, and ambitious inhabitants. They also needed to find a way to save their town with the closure of the local military base. Jobs were gone, poverty rose, and the younger generations were moving away and not coming back – building a very exclusive resort only open seasonally for the wealthy was a last chance opportunity. However, the resort wasn’t universally favored and it’s approval and ongoing construction have played a role in several suspicious death in the past months.
Alison Smith, a fox shifter, knew just how bad things had become since the military base closed. Her husband stopped working, started drinking, gambling, fighting with her, neglecting their four children and finally vanished leaving her with a bunch of debts she didn’t know existed. Alison did everything she could to provide for her family and tried not to lean too hard on her best friend, Oliver or any of her other friends. Oliver, a bear shifter, ran a bar at the edge of Cambio Springs and acted as a buffer preventing too curious humans from wandering into the town. He was generally slow to anger using his size and intensity to keep order but ever since Alison’s husband left her, his temperament became more volatile.
Oliver had loved Alison since high school and watched over her from a distance as she married, had children, lost her joy in life, and now struggled to deal with one negative event after another. Then when Alison and her children started receiving threats and smelling strange scents around their dwelling, he decided enough was enough. I loved seeing Oliver step in while trying not to hurt or diminish what Alison was capable of doing. Watching his interactions with her children for who they were, not for what they meant to Alison was really sweet. (I might have a weakness for grumpy bears.)
It was both a lot of fun and semi-frustrating to watch Alison slowly change her perception of Oliver as more than her best friend but her best friend with potential for a lot more. She was so used to coping on her own, she tended to assume he was offering to help out of obligation to their friendship and he felt she was too needy or cramping his style. He was known as one for the ladies yet completely happy living solitarily so having her four children continually underfoot in his house made her feel guilty for her failures as a parent/wife. As she gain confidence in what she had to offer and started to believe Oliver actually enjoying having them around she came out of her shell and I could see why Oliver had been yearning for decades. While a much smaller animal when shifted, she was also just as fierce a protector for her children. I absolutely LOVED a confrontation she had towards the end of the story.
The mystery interwoven in Alison and Oliver’s relationship was intriguing. It brought out aspects in some of the supporting characters only previously hinted at while also opening the world and making me wonder what else might be hidden in Cambio Springs. I was glad to see some particular characters weren’t entirely bad and at the same time saddened to watch others live down to my expectations. It is going to be interesting to see if they continue on those particular paths or if something shifts again. I also want to know how the outside threat revealed in this story turns out and if the resort is able to save the town without revealing the long held secret.
I enjoyed Waking Hearts and the building tension as the stakes continue to rise for Cambio Springs. The heartbreaking losses of their own, connections to unsavory humans, and the curiosity of those who are hiding their own secrets make the characters and lives of the Cambio Springs inhabitants intriguing. The fact I am familiar with the setting since I grew up in the Mojave Desert just made it even more fun because I know the desert has its secrets both beautiful and deadly. I am looking forward to the next installment and once again reminding myself I need to finish reading Hunter’s backlist.
I give Waking Hearts a B+
Giveaway: Open internationally with the prize of one print signed copy. To enter leave a comment telling me what you either like best about a story set in your home area or what you would anticipate if you haven’t read one set in your home area. Contest closes 1 Dec. Good luck!