Whiskey Creek #8
Source: Finished copy from publisher for review
As the daughter of a hoarder, Phoenix Fuller had a tough childhood. So when the handsome, popular Riley Stinson became her boyfriend in high school, she finally felt as though she had something to be proud of. Phoenix was desperate not to lose him—especially once she found out she was pregnant. Yes, she might have acted a bit obsessive when he broke up with her. But she did not run down the girl he started dating next!
Unfortunately, there was no way to prove her innocence. Now, after serving her time in prison, Phoenix has been released. All she wants to do is return to Whiskey Creek and get to know her son. But Jacob's father isn't exactly welcoming.
Riley doesn't trust Phoenix, doesn't want her in Jacob's life. He is, however, ready to find someone to love. And he wants a good mother for his son. He has no idea that he's about to find both—if they can forgive the mistakes in their past…
Despite being a later book in the Whiskey Creek series, This Heart of Mine easily stands on its own, a heroine returning home after a seventeen-year prison sentence instantaneously winning us over with the love she has for the son she was robbed of knowing. We meet Phoenix moments before her first meeting with Jacob, and the abject terror she feels in those opening pages wraps us immediately around her little finger as we long to reach in and lend her a little of our strength. Our emotional connection to Phoenix only deepens as her story unfolds, tears springing to our eyes time and again as she struggles to find her place in a town that doesn't want her and isn't afraid to show it.
After serving seventeen years of a fifteen-year sentence thanks to the cruelty of a fellow inmate, it's easy to expect Phoenix to be one of two things: Bitter and full of resentment for those who refused to believe her side of the story, or self-loathing, her time in prison giving her a clarity as to her own faults that she might not have had otherwise. Remarkably however, we find a woman who is inordinately grateful for the chance to finally meet her son, and who wants nothing more than to build a relationship with him if he and his father will allow it. Her fear that one wrong move on her part will result in Riley forbidding her from spending time with Jacob is so thick we can hardly swallow around the lump that forms in our throats, wanting nothing more than for her have this one tiny piece of happiness.
While Phoneix's story would have been heartbreaking even should she have turned out to be bitter or self-loathing, what's especially moving about her is the fact that she genuinely doesn't expect a single kindness from anyone. She doesn't feel as though she deserves their hatred though–that would lead us to wish she would come to terms with the fact that her cruelest detractor is staring back at her in the mirror–she instead knows she's served her punishment but is also keenly aware that she's been found guilty in the court of public opinion, one whose sentencing is far more brutal. Seeing her fight an uphill battle over and over again is extraordinarily painful at times, forcing us to set the book aside as we practice our deep breathing exercises and wish violence on those who feel she hasn't yet paid in full for her supposed crime.
The only minor complaint, and it's one hugely personal in nature, is the fact that we don't get to see those who were so thoroughly convinced of Phoenix's guilt eat more than the tiniest sliver of humble pie in the end. Riley's mother in particular deserved a much larger piece, but it's hard to get too worked up about it in the midst of our relief that Phoenix is finally going to live the life she should have had seventeen years ago. A beautiful and poignant contemporary romance, This Heart of Mine guarantees a late night of reading as it's nearly impossible to put down.
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New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has penned over 45 novels. A two-time Rita nominee, she's won The National Reader's Choice, The Bookseller's Best, The Bookbuyer's Best and many other awards. She runs an annual online auction for diabetes research every May at www.brendanovak.com. To date, she’s raised over $2 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.
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