“Under A Painted Sky” is the first novel in what is anticipated to be a series called “Spirit Warriors”. I believe it is also the first published novel by independent author Jenna Roads. Ms. Roads tells the story of Isabella Reed, a divorced young woman who accepts an invitation from her aunt to pursue an escape and new start in New Mexico. I don't believe it'll be much of a spoiler to say that she gets both.
Ms. Roads pacing is deceptive. My original thought was that the book is developing very slowly – until I realized I was quickly through ¾ of the text without realizing it! Perhaps it is because I don't read a lot of books that fit either the “romance” or “paranormal” category, let alone combines the two like this one does. (And they SHOULD be listed separately; they are two different aspects of the book. It's not like our protagonist falls in love with the ghost of a young Spanish conquistador or something to make it a “paranormal romance”!)
The strongest aspect of Ms. Roads' work is how her obvious love of Albuquerque pours out in her descriptions of the city and its various sites. I also loved what I saw of the city during a visit around 10 years ago, but haven't been able to back – until this week, when Ms. Roads took me by the hand and guided me to her favorite locales. Old Town, Sandia, El Pinto (perhaps my favorite restaurant in the US!), and more. I visited some of those sites, and others will have to be on my “to do” list for my next trip, whenever it is. Of course, I would ALSO like to see our young couple visit the Biological Park (Zoo, Aquarium, and Botanical Gardens) – maybe they'll do that in the next book?
First person narrative is a lot more difficult to successfully pull off than most folks – readers and writers – realize. You need to stay in character, but avoid too many verbal tics. The narrator can't reveal things that the character has no way to actually know (although this is not as much a problem if the book is told in hindsight). Ms. Roads' avoided the second trap, but did trip over the first issue on occasion. Most notable is when she lapses into a common trap of the 1st person narrative … “I” problems. “I walked in the door. I closed the door. I called for a pizza with peppers and olives. I paid the delivery guy. ...” A strong editor or courageous beta reader should be able to warn our author when these types of things show up before her next book is published.
The curmudgeon in me grumbles, “It's a work from a new author who needs an editor who'll do more than correct spelling and grammar.” But even that grouch side of my personality admits that there is a very strong base to work from. The fatherly side of me seriously wants to see her nurture and grow her storytelling abilities. After all, Ms. Roads has successfully accomplished two things that really hook me into a story: I LIKE the main characters, and the locale is important enough to the tale that it has almost become one of those characters!
One day in the not-too-distant future, successful author Jenna Roads will look back on this first work and say something like “Oh G-d, I can't believe I used to write like THAT.” In other households, there will be readers, looking at copies of this book, saying, “Dear G-d, I WISH I could write like THAT.”
DISCLOSURE: I was given a copy of this book by a friend, with the agreement that I would write an honest and unbiased review. (And that I would do so quickly!) Thanks, Tina!
(reviewed 10 days after purchase)