**I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review**
Having had the pleasure of reading the first book in this series, The Space Between, and thoroughly enjoying it, I was pretty excited to dive into the sequel and see where the author was going to take these characters. Several months have passed since Leni and Jeric's souls have forged and a lot has changed. Their bodies have healed from their last battle, they're now living in the mysterious manor and training with the other guardians, and they've gained special abilities, along with other things. And we find them struggling to come to terms with their new life, their roles as guardians, and the high expectations that come along with them being leaders of their unique group. We also see them on the hunt for two very important guardians, Rebethanna and Nathayden. We're introduced to many new characters, including plenty of fellow guardians, and some old characters resurface. One character who plays a particularly big role in this story is Bethany, who popped up in the previous book.
Bethany's story was quite difficult for me to read at times. She struggled throughout the entire book and her life wasn't easy at all. She's had a difficult past, which is true for many of the characters in this series, and is busy working herself to the bone to support her sister and sick mother. There's a lot of darkness in her life, which is evident to those around her, an especially to the guardians. Even Bethany can feel the darkness slowly taking over, while she tries to hold herself together. Along with wanting to protect Bethany from the Lakari, Leni is also drawn to her on a much deeper level and feels like there's more to Bethany than they all realize. Bethany's love life is another huge struggle for her and she doesn't always make the best decisions.. I felt like Bethany was a bit naive at times and lacked some common sense at others, but I did enjoy her POV and became really invested in her story. I think she made for a great addition to this series.
Jeric is still struggling with having Leni involved in fighting the Lakari, as much as he knows it's inevitable and necessary, and is constantly at battle with himself. He has difficulty, up until the bitter end with trusting Leni's instincts, even though he's promised to do so. But, by the time the book ends, I think he may have finally learned his lesson. Leni, on the other hand, really embraces her role as the "light" for the other guardians and tries her best to embrace her new responsibilities. One thing that did frustrate me was this all-powerful, still mysterious, book that was supposed to somehow have all the answers. As of 67%, the book had provided them with hardly any help, save for one cryptic message that just left more questions than answers. I will say that at least the other characters shared this frustration, and the book did pull through eventually, but it was something that bugged me for most of the book.
Although Leni jumps head first into her new leadership role among the other guardians, her "super-intuition" was a bit disappointing at times. One character that pops up in this book is Rebethanna, a fellow guardian, and someone who us supposedly very close to several of the guardians, especially Leni. Leni is convinced that once she finally sees Rebethanna in person, she'll know immediately and have such a strong pull to her. The only problem with this is, when she does meet someone who she thinks is this mysterious Rebethanna, it turns out to be just a tiny "hunch" on her part that she's finally found her. I was really looking forward to these characters sharing an huge connection and, unfortunately, it wasn't there. At least not in the capacity I was hoping for.
I really enjoyed this installment in the Book of Phoenix series. I have to say, It did start off a bit rocky for me at first. Right when they finally had their first mission, and I was expecting some action and excitement, it seemed to hit a lull. The author jumped to a new POV, and it felt like I was starting a brand new book. I began to feel a bit disconnected to the original story pretty quickly after that and it bothered me for a while. Looking back on it now, it really doesn't bother me as much as it did while I was reading. I see now that we got two great stories, which is very similar to the first book, and the eventually tied together perfectly.
This book was beautifully, sometimes disturbingly descriptive. One scene in particular was pretty unexpected and extremely difficult for me to read. But the message behind this series remains incredibly sweet and the characters, old and new, really do work themselves into your heart. The ending was bittersweet, and will definitely leave you on the edge of your seat, wanting more. My heart broke for a few of the characters and I'm dying to know what happens next. As for the two new guardians we finally meet, I have a soft spot for them now and can't wait for them to get their happy ending.
An Excerpt from Bethany's POV:
Ty stared at me for a long moment as multiple emotions passed through his expressive eyes. Then he pulled his cap down further over his forehead, threw some money on the table, and strode out the door. I stood there for a moment, trying to pull myself together. Hopefully, that was the end of the suck for the day. I’d had enough, and I needed it all to follow him out that door. But if it did, it blew right back in with the next person to walk through. Sissy.
“Ty Daniels?” she asked as she looked over her shoulder at the old, beat-up, black Ford truck leaving the parking lot. She turned back to me with her dark brows raised over big blue eyes that were just like mine. Her raven hair was pulled back in a clip, and she wore little makeup, revealing the purple half-moons under her eyes. I couldn’t believe she was out in public like this—that wasn’t the Sissy I knew. She looked as exhausted as I felt. She may have been younger than me, but she’d always had an old soul, and right now, no way did she look only nineteen years old.
“Yeah, he’s back home, but don’t worry. I sent him packin’, at least from me. You look like hell.” My sisterly way of trying to change the subject.
She didn’t take my eggin’, though. “He’s probably the best thing for ya, sis. You probably shouldn’t let him go a second time.”
My eyes narrowed at her as she stepped to the table nearest the door and hesitantly sat down. She’d seen the hot mess I’d been when Ty left. She’d claimed to hate him as much as I had.
She looked up at me and rolled her eyes at my expression. “Oh, come on, sis. Settlin’ down with Ty is a lot better than you runnin’ around and gettin’ it on with a different guy every month. Aren’t you tired of that yet?”
My nostrils flared as I blew out an angry breath before yanking out the seat in front of her and dropping into it hard. I crossed my arms on the table and leaned toward her.
“I do not get it on with a different guy every month! Quit makin’ me sound like a two-bit whore!”
She only stared at me with her brow raised again.
“Four guys, Sissy. I’ve been with four guys since Ty left me three years ago.”
She still stared silently. I squirmed and leaned back.
“Okay, maybe it was five. That’s still a long shot from one a month.”
“And is that countin’ the carnie from Atlanta?”
“I didn’t get it on with him! We made out a little, but that’s all. He kissed like a fish attacking a worm on a hook.” I shuddered at the memory.
“Still another man. And what about the surfer from Daytona? The cowboy whose truck broke down on the way to the PBR finals? Oh, and let’s not forget Punk Roberts.”
I sighed. If she counted them, her list could go on, but I’d actually slept with Punk. I really thought he’d been The One. He’d graduated as Michael Roberts several years before me and went off to become a nearly famous rock star. No doubt he would be there one of these days. He’d come home for a break for a couple of months, and we’d hit it off right away. I’d never told Sissy because she would have talked me out of it immediately, but I’d been ready to pack my bags and hit the road with him, glad to say goodbye to this Podunk town forever. Until I found out he’d succumbed to the typical rocker lifestyle on the road, fueled by drugs that hyped him up and more that forced him to sleep. I’d had enough of that bullshit in my twenty years at the time. I wasn’t about to go there with him.
Sissy fell silent, and when I looked up at her, sadness filled her eyes. She reached out for my hands and took them into hers.
“I’m sorry, Be—Bex.” That was the first time she’d called me that, so she must have meant it. “I didn’t come here to pick on you. I’m just worried about you, is all. And I know you hate Ty for what he did to you, but maybe you can find it in your heart to love him again.”
The problem was I’d never stopped loving him. But only as a friend. He’d been the rock in my life, but now I couldn’t count on him anymore. Maybe that was it—I couldn’t trust him. And if there’s no trust, there’s no relationship.
“So you knew he was comin’ back home and you didn’t tell me?” I asked, bitterness filling my voice. I yanked my hands away from her. “Left Mama’s side and came all the way here to convince me to take him back? Did he put you up to this?”
Sissy pressed her hand to her chest and shook her head. “I had no idea he was back, I pinky swear. I just saw him and thought he’d be good for you. He’s always been a good friend to us, and we kinda need that right now.” She folded her hands on the table and dropped her gaze as she picked at her fingernails. “But no, there’s somethin’ else. Did you get my message this mornin’?”
“Yeah, Liz’beth told me. I was goin’ to call you back before I went to my other job.”
Sissy’s face lifted, looking even more exhausted than she had before, and I felt bad for my jab at her. Sorta bad. I thought she sometimes forgot who was working her ass off to support us and pay for at least some of Mama’s medical bills. Someone had to do it after all, and sometimes she became quite the martyr, never letting me forget who does the caretaking of Mama.
“You need to see her,” Sissy said, her voice soft and quivery.
“I’ve got no need to.”
“Beth …” She sighed. “Bex … she only has a few more weeks. Maybe a month or two, but the doctors reckon it’ll be shorter.”
Kristie Cook is a lifelong writer in various genres, from marketing communications to fantasy fiction. Besides writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, traveling and riding on the back of a motorcycle. She has lived in ten states, but currently calls Southwest Florida home with her husband, three teenage sons, a beagle and a puggle. She can be found at www.KristieCook.com.