Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia

Holy Romance Novel, B9781250079206_b9a41atman! This one is going to the top of my YA romance favorites list! This is the first of Kami Garcia’s novels that I have read, but I am now kicking myself for not reading her other ones already! You probably hear this a lot, but I literally couldn’t put this book down. I started it at 7:30 PM after the kids went to bed and finished the last page at 11:45 PM. It was THAT GOOD! It reminded me a little bit of the Abbi Glines Field Party series because of the small town where football is life. (That is also a really good series, by the way.) Garcia’s characters are beautifully crafted, but also very real – readers will be able to identify them to people in their own lives.

Here’s the rundown: Things are going well for high school senior Peyton Rios, a star soccer player who just received admittance and a starting soccer position at her college of choice, UNC. About a year prior to the story, Peyon’s father was killed in Iraq. She has had a tough road, but she is not alone. She has a best friend named Tess and a boyfriend of 7 months, Tess’s older brother, Reed. Reed is an MMA fighter who has been there for Peyton, but lately he seems a little distant and moody.

During a typical weekend house party, Peyton discovers a secret about Reed the she doesn’t want to believe, but knows she has to distance herself from his lies. When she confronts him, he gets violent and pushes her down the stairs, shattering her knee and her heart at the same time. After extensive surgery, Peyton worries she will lose her spot on the team at UNC, and wonders if she will ever be able to play soccer again? An even bigger problem is that Reed claims she fell and no one (other than her own mother) believes her, not even her best friend Tess. Soon she begins getting threats and Reed will no stop calling her, trying to see her as if nothing bad has happened.

Needing a change of scenery so that she can focus on rehab for the next few months, Peyton moves to a small town in Tennessee to live with her Uncle Hawk and the Twins, Christian and Cameron. Hawk was the only survivor of the military attack which killed her father, but having to dredge up painful memories even seems better than her current situation of constant fear and threats. She learns quickly that football is life in her Uncle’s family, her new school, and the whole town. Still reeling from the heartbreak of her last relationship, Peyton makes it clear to everyone that she is not interested in dating. Her muscle-head, tender-hearted, football star cousins, the Twins, watch her every move, determined to keep her safe, even from their own teammates. At first endearing and sweet, Peyton appreciates them, but really she just wants to be left alone and treated like everyone else. Until she (literally) runs into Owen Law, a mysterious, sexy guy who she instantly feels attracted to for some reason. Even so, she refuses to be swayed by his charm.

When she shows up for her first therapy session, however, she is forced into even closer contact with Owen. He is interning with the therapist and Peyton is his new patient. Side note: If I were her, I would be milking that knee injury for a very long time. The longer it hurts, the more therapy you need, right? But, I digress…

To complicate matters, it turns out that Owen is an MMA fighter, and he is GOOD. Though she knows of the risks of getting involved with another fighter, Peyton can’t help thinking that Owen is different. He’s nothing like Reed, and she is finding it hard to think about anything but Owen. But then she finds out Owen is hiding something. Something too big to ignore. And even though Peyton claims they are just friends, the something could shatter her heart all over again. Both Peyton and Owen must ask themselves how far they are willing to go for themselves and for each other. Is love worth really fighting for?

The story moves along rather quickly with just the right amount of romance, mystery, and humor. And fighting, lots of fighting. And not always in the ring. Hallways, parking lots, abandoned buildings, you name it. These small town Tennessee boys are quick to throw punches and protect their own. I loved this book and the characters. I can’t wait for her next book!

 

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The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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Kristin Hannah has done it again! Her newest novel, The Great Alone, which releases in February 2018, is absolutely stunning.

The story begins in 1974 when Lenora Allbright (Leni) is 13 years old and once again the new kid at school, having changed schools multiple times mainly because of her father’s wrath and inability to keep a job. Leni’s father, Ernt, was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War, and since he has been back, his own family household has become the front line of battle with his white hot anger and temper. Leni’s mother, Cora, tries to tiptoe around Ernt in order to keep their glass house from shattering, but she rarely escapes the wrath of Ernt, which Leni witnesses it all the time. Just when Leni hopes they might finally settle down in one place so her father can be happy, Ernt loses yet another job, and the family is uprooted again. This time, however, her parents pack up the VW van and the family of three heads to a remote island in the Alaskan wilderness. One of Ernt’s war comrades who passed away in Vietnam, Bo Harlan, left Ernt his ramshackle homestead in Kaneq, on the Kenai Peninsula. Ernt feels this is a sign, and a big break for the family that they must not pass up. What they don’t realize then is that Alaska will change the course of Leni’s future forever. All of their futures, actually.

Other than a few neighbors down the road a ways, the Allbright’s rustic cabin is in an untamed area of Alaska, where the winters are unforgiving and severe and the wildlife extremely dangerous. Leni and her mother get to know some strong Alaskan women, learning all they can from them regarding planting, fishing, and preparing food and adequate shelter for winter. Large Marge, a former lawyer who runs the small general store in town, takes them under her wing and provides Leni a security she has never felt before. Ernt gets close to Bo’s father, Mad Earl Harlan and his clan, and together Ernt and Earl, both paranoid quick to rage, arrange all-out crazy plans for surviving when “TSHTF” with the government.

Meanwhile, Leni starts school with the very few other school-age inhabitants of Kaneq, including the only other student her age, Matthew Walker. Matthew’s family has been very successful in Alaska for many generations, starting with his grandparents who started the town of Kaneq. Matthew’s father, Tom, plans to use some of his wealth to modernize and improve Kaneq, opening up the island for tourism. This, and the fact that Tom seems to have a keen eye for his wife, Cora, only enrages Ernt Allbright more. Ernt directs his hatred and anger toward the Walkers and anything to do with their family, including Matthew, of course. Though her father forbids Leni from seeing Matthew, Leni grows closer and closer with him, finding in him a first best friend and first love all at the same time.

For Leni, the dangers outside of the cabin and in the wilderness are much less than those she faces in her own home. As the years pass and Leni grows up, she and her mother are both terrified to stay, and terrified to leave, knowing that Ernt will track them down no matter what. Now, at the age of 18 and graduating from high school, Leni dreams of going to college with Matthew and studying photography. However, her father forbids her from leaving Kaneq, in his mad fury to control each and every move she and her mother make. He even goes as far as to build a wall, locking the family on their property and locking everyone else out. A horrific tragedy strikes as Leni is finally able to make an escape, and what happens after will keep readers on the edge of their seats through a roller-coaster of fear, guilt, regret, love, and longing.

Hannah’s description of the land and stark beauty of Alaska are breathtaking. The author’s notes explain that Hannah’s own father ended up in Alaska in search of great adventure, and they have all “fallen in love with the Last Frontier.” Her experience with Alaska is evident in the atmospheric scenes throughout the novel. The writing is raw and real. Readers will feel the naked fear and loneliness of Leni and Cora as they struggle to survive in the great alone of Alaska, trapped in a family crisis with no easy way out. I couldn’t put this book down, much like my experience with all of Hannah’s novels. The fact that the setting for this novel was very personal for Hannah made it even more enjoyable for me as the reader. I would highly recommend The Great Alone to anyone who enjoys adventure, suspense, romance, and coming-of-age novels, because this one has it all.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the review copy of this title.