Title: This Heart of Mine
Author: Brenda Novak
My Rating: A++
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Whiskey Creek #8
Main Characters: Phoenix and Riley
Release Date: March 2015
Links to Purchase:
Sexual Intensity: mild
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…
This book. Wow. I knew it had the set-up to be really good and emotional, but I had no idea. I literally cried...well, I can't even count how many times...while I was reading this book. My heart broke for Phoenix. OMG, this poor girl. Her crime...she fell in love at 18...and spent the next 17 years in prison for it. Seriously, even now I'm tearing up thinking about her tragic story.
For 6 weeks her senior year in high school, Phoenix dated Riley. He was a popular kid from the right family. She was an outcast being raised by a single agoraphobic, hoarder mother with mental issues. Riley was Phoenix's first and only boyfriend and she was shattered after he broke it off, due to pressures from his family. Then she found out she was pregnant and he started dating someone else...Lori, who was run over while Phoenix was driving. It was a horrible, tragic accident, but it wasn't Phoenix's fault. No one believed her so she went to prison for murder for 17 years and never got to see her son, Jacob, again after he was born.
Seriously, tragic does not even begin to cover how unfair Phoenix's life is. But now she's out of prison and is back in Whiskey Creek. She wants two things...to know her son without causing him any further embarrassment and to take care of her mother who never leaves her trailer. Phoenix is tough, but so vulnerable. She doesn't want to draw attention to herself. She doesn't want to cause waves in Riley or Jacob's lives. She only wants to see her son...if he's okay with it. She's nice to the point of putting herself out over and over and over again. Every penny she's made while in prison she's sent to Riley for Jacob's care. She's self-sacrificing in the face of doing ANYTHING she can to make Jacob's life easier. When she was 18, she had no support so the town ran rough-shod over her. She has even less now. My heart literally wept for this women and all that she's sacrificed and continued to sacrifice. And it would be so easy for her to be bitter, but she's not. She's a gentle, sweet soul and that shows up more and more and more.
The other side of this is Riley. When he was 18, he was weak and stupid and allowed the adults around him affect his reasoning. He didn't give Phoenix the benefit of the doubt. In fact, he didn't even show up the day she testified in court. She was completely alone and he abandoned her too. The sad part of this is that he truly loved her. He was just too young. They were both too young. But now it's 16 years later. He's never allowed any interactions between Jacob and Phoenix because he wanted to protect Jacob. He quickly comes to see that was wrong on his part...so wrong. And that's just the first in a long line of painful self-realizations for Riley.
Honestly, these were the moments that crushed me while reading this book. Phoenix knows she was stupid in love and borderline obsessive about him back then. She's doing EVERYthing she can to negate that now...just as Riley is beginning to see how everyone else twisted her actions in his mind so that his vision of her became skewed. It's painful to read. His mistakes. Her immeasurable pain and loss. They were only 18 years old and she lost half her life because of stupid, idiotic mistakes made by two kids too young to know better. And now she's trying to get to know her 16 yo son.
Everything about this book was tragic. My heart was shredded while reading it, but I loved Phoenix. This is a story of the strength of a mother's love. She should be bitter. She should be hard. But her love for her son has kept her heart open and beautiful. She doesn't trust herself around Riley any longer. Loving him cost her everything and she can't trust him or even her own self to keep that from happening again. But she loves Jacob without question and that makes the book beautiful. It was wonderful to see their relationship develop. I also really loved Jacob's talks with Riley. They're closer than most father and sons because there really isn't that much separation in age. I loved how Jacob became a champion for a relationship between Riley and Phoenix, but how all three of them know that nothing can touch her relationship that's developing with her son. It's a wonderful story of hope when there's not much positive to build on. But it's also a story of the healing power of love and I adored it for that.
I bought a paperback copy of this book for my keeper shelf and I can promise you that I will re-read this one several times over. It was a GREAT book!!
I received a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.