Sunday, May 10, 2015

This Heart of Mine - Brenda Novak (Mira - Apr 2015)

Series: Whiskey Creek (Book 8)

First love. Second chance?

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…

Good book. Phoenix has been a presence in the background of the series from the beginning, as the girl who had been sent to prison for running down and killing a romantic rival. There was always a feeling that there was more to the story, and here we finally get it.

After finishing her time in prison, Phoenix is back in Whiskey Creek. All she wants is to live quietly and finally get a chance to know her son. But Jake's father isn't exactly making it easy for her. Riley really isn't sure he wants Phoenix anywhere near Jake, but he can't deny his son a chance to get to know her. 

My heart just broke for Phoenix. The entire time she was away, all she could think about was the baby she hadn't even gotten to hold. Though she doesn't earn much money while in prison, she feels it's important to contribute to Jake's care, so she sends money to Riley whenever she can, even though he doesn't need it. That first day, when she invited Jake and Riley out for breakfast, and didn't eat anything herself so she'd be sure to have enough money to pay, just made me ache. All she really has left is her pride and she refuses to allow herself to look bad in their presence. 

I thought that Phoenix was an amazingly strong woman. She is starting her life over with practically nothing. She is back living with her mother, an obese woman with hoarding issues, who is extremely negative toward her. She has little money, but an incredible determination to make the small business she has started a success, overcoming obstacles not of her own making to do it. She has to deal with the attitudes of people in town who don't want her living there. Through it all, she has her eyes on the prize of getting to know Jake. She was willing to do whatever it took to do so, and always put what was best for him ahead of what she wanted for herself.

Riley bugged me a bit at first. I understood that he was trying to be protective of Jake, but he was so darned suspicious of anything that Phoenix said or did. I finally got that part of it was the guilt he felt, because he had listened to everyone else back when it happened and not trusted his own feelings. He didn't want to believe that he had misjudged her all those years. I did appreciate that, in spite of his fears, he didn't try to keep Jake and Phoenix apart.

The rekindling of the relationship between Riley and Phoenix was pretty sweet. Phoenix had never stopped loving Riley, but she was determined that she wouldn't repeat the mistakes of the past. She does everything she can think of to make sure that Riley knows that she doesn't expect anything from him. Riley moves quickly from suspicion of Phoenix and her motives to wanting to get closer to her again. I loved the ways that he tried to help her, and his frustration at her resistance. I especially loved seeing the way that his public support of her grew and seeing him stand up for her against others. I really loved the patience he showed as he worked to earn Phoenix's trust. What he did for her at the end was absolutely fantastic.

I loved Phoenix's son Jake. Riley had done an awesome job raising him. He could have been spiteful about having an ex-con for a mother, but he gave her the benefit of the doubt from the very beginning. He was a real sweetheart about trying to include Phoenix in his life from their first meeting. It was pretty sweet to see him almost shaming his father into doing the right things to help her. He also was very protective of her feelings and hated to see the way she was treated. I had fun seeing him try to push Phoenix and Riley together.

Riley's friends were the wild card at the beginning. It was hard to tell if they were going to be for her or against her. I loved the way that Kyle was the first to reach out to her. He felt that since she had served her time, it was time to move forward. He was a really nice guy with the way that he gave her ways to help herself without feeling like she was accepting charity. It was also fun to see the way he pushed Riley's buttons a little, by paying attention to Phoenix. I liked the way that Riley's friends all made a point of talking to her and including her during the weekend party at the cabin.

I loved the ending and seeing what Riley did for Phoenix. It was very satisfying to see him stand up to his parents and the family of the dead girl. I would have liked to see some actual consequences and contrition as a result of what happened, but as long as Phoenix was content, I suppose I should be too.

*copy received in exchanged for honest review.

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