It starts with the death of her husband. Liam has been Jasmyn's best friend since childhood, and suddenly, he's gone and she's all alone.
And then strange things start to happen. Black swans drop dead from the sky at Liam's funeral. Her house gets ransacked while she's away for a few days. A black horse keeps appearing and disappearing at the oddest times. Liam's brother, Ben, seems to understand more than he's willing to tell Jasmyn about the whole thing. And sooner or later, Jasmyn is going to have to face the fact that she may not have really known her husband at all...
Jasmyn by Alex Bell
One sentence sum-up: a magical mystery that will have you riveted.
My reaction: There's no question about it - I found this book to be surprisingly addictive. Once I got a few chapters in, I just had to keep flipping the pages to figure out what was going on. It's bizarre and mysterious and very different from my usual type of book, and yet at the same time I had this odd feeling of deja vu as I read it. The imagery was vivid, and this coupled with the setting and plot makes me think it would work quite well as a movie. Interestingly, usually the characters are an essential ingredient in a book for me, but this one was really carried more by the plot (I discuss some issues I had with the protagonist below).
Best aspect: The build-up of strange events that kept me going, "What? What is happening *now*?" and flipping pages. I also liked the very gradual changes in the relationship between Ben and Jasmyn (and the revelation, but that would be a major, major spoiler).
And also, the Neuschwanstein part of it? That was awesome. Seriously, I loved how Jasmyn travels to Germany (she also spends some time in England, Paris, and Sweden), and tying in the story of mad King Ludwig was fabulous. I've been to Neuschwanstein, so I could picture some of it, which made it all the more interesting for me. Just generally, I think the settings were well chosen for creating the right atmosphere and backdrop for this fantastical story.
If I could change something... Well, I would make Jasmyn a little more insightful - both in terms of self-awareness and in terms of what's going on around her (although she believes the whole 'magic' side of things a little too easily, I thought). She was so stubbornly determined to stick to certain beliefs that it got very frustrating and I wanted to shake some sense into her! But then again, if she hadn't been so willfully blind she might have figured things out sooner, in which case there would be less mystery...
Also, the end scenes were a little rushed, and I was left confused about exactly what had happened and what everyone's motives were. I would have liked some more explanation here — everything happens so quickly and then it's over. I'm also not so sure about how some of the odd events that occur earlier in the story tie in, although I suspect if I were to re-read it these might make more sense the second time round, now that I know what a good chunk of the mystery is.
The odd thing about these dreams was that I quite enjoyed them at the time. I felt...a sort of contentment. There was no grief pressing down on me anymore. But when I woke up I would be swamped with an intense sense of loss...only it wasn't for Liam. It was for something else. Almost as if I'd lost something I hadn't even known I'd had...
Recommend for: anyone who wants to read a wild ride of a fairytale-like story set in the present day.
Final verdict: 4.5 shooting stars
Author's website: www.alex-bell.co.uk
Note: While this one is technically an adult book, I think it might be suitable for older YA readers as well. There is some violent content, but apart from that I don't recall anything too objectionable.