The guys talk about their past week as Jeff worked on revisions and they saw a production of Oklahoma, which they both enjoyed. They also welcomed the new listeners that have found the show during the past month.
Jeff reviews Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith and Will reviews Annabeth Albert’s Arctic Wild.
Will and Jeff talk with Annabeth Albert about the Frozen Hearts series, including getting a sneak peek of Arctic Heat, which comes out in September. Annabeth also talks about the research that goes into the Frozen Hearts books, the latest in the Out of Uniform and Rainbow Cove series plus she discusses her next series about smoke jumpers.
Here are the things we talk about in this episode:
- The Hockey Player’s Heart by Jeff Adams & Will Knauss on Amazon
- Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith on Amazon
- Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Annabeth Albert Interview
- Annabeth Albert: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Spotify
- Frozen Hearts series by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Debbie Macomber on Amazon
- Nora Roberts on Amazon
- Out of Uniform series by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Arctic Heat by Annabeth Albert on Amazon (pre-order through September 23)
- Rainbow Cove series by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Lumber Jacked by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Rough Terrain by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston on Amazon
- Winning Bracket by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- First in Line by Annabeth Albert on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
Interview Transcript – Annabeth Albert
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: We are excited to welcome back to the show, Annabeth Albert. She was last here, way back in December 2017 in episode 115, talking about “Wheels Up”. You have written so much since then. It’s so great to have you back to catch up.
Annabeth: Hi, happy to see you.
Jeff: Now, the most recent thing you got out is the “Frozen Hearts” series. Tell us a little bit about this series and what its inspiration was.
Annabeth: So I started reading in the late ’80s, early ’90s romance. And I love the Alaska set Debbie Macomber’s and Nora Roberts. And so my inspiration for this series would be, what if we went back to that sort of setting but made it LGBTQ and fun and that big, sweeping feeling – the big scenery, big emotions, mountain men? I wanted to capture all that feeling of Alaska.
And also all the Alaska shows that I like watching, “Man Versus Nature,” all those sort of shows. And so I thought, let’s bring that sort of big scenery to life in a series that also has LGBTQ characters. And so it was really fun for me to get to bring that to life. And it’s a three book trilogy, and each book stands alone really well because we kind of did it so that there’s very little overlap in the storylines for this particular trilogy. With “Out Of Uniform”, they were a little more closely linked, you saw more secondary characters popping up, back and forth. And here, they stand alone a little bit more.
Will: Aside from the inspiration itself, did you have any experience with Alaska? Have you ever been there?
Annabeth: That’s what’s the funny part. No, I haven’t actually been there. I feel guilty admitting that right now. But I have done a ton of research. And I also had Alaska beta readers for each of the books. I had people who actually live in the area in Alaska, who are able to give me feedback. “Oh, this is wrong. The coast is over here. This is…” But I did a ton of reading books set in Alaska and documentaries and message boards. And then like I said, using the beta and the sensitivity readers too from Alaska.
Jeff: It’s so good to have readers in your readership who can be those beta people when you need them.
Annabeth: Yeah. I think that it’s really important. In Book Two, I have a hero who’s native Alaskan. And so it was really important to me to get a couple of beta readers and sensitivity readers who themselves identified as native Alaskans so I can have that perspective come in. And so that’s really important to me. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right beta reader for that particular project. Like with book one, we had some alcoholism and some eating disorders being dealt with in that book.
And so what I was able to do is get beta readers for that issue. Like I had an eating disorder beta reader, I had an alcoholism beta reader, I had some sensitivity readers kind of about trauma and stuff like that. So I tried to really bring in a lot of perspectives, so that it’s both authentic and it feels true to the character, but also is sensitively done.
Will: I agree with you about the sensitivity. I mean, because you’re dealing with some pretty, you know, heavy, serious subjects. But they’re handled in an intelligent and thoughtful way that doesn’t make it like preachy or a downer. So I really enjoyed that in the first book. And I wanted to go back to the second book, “Arctic Wild”, which I really, really loved. Can you talk to us a little bit about the ideas and inspiration behind that particular book? Especially the themes kind of like, you know, there’s like hurt-comfort going on, there’s kind of May-December going on with that particular book. What was the inspiration behind book two?
Annabeth: So each of the books, I wanted a different fish out of water, so different characters kind of coming. And so I wanted to do a character who was a little bit older, more settled in his life, and confident in who he is. And so I knew he was going to be older, I knew he was going to be a lawyer, I knew he was going to be fairly well off. And I wanted to do a silver fox sort of character, but I call him my silver bear, because he’s also a little bit of a larger guy.
I wanted something a little outside the norm for him kind of…and then I was like, “Well, so who is he going to get paired with?” Well, obviously, he’s got to get paired with someone who’s fun and younger, and kind of his opposite in a lot of ways. But I knew that I wanted the hook that kind of bonds them together to be this plane crash, because I knew all along that book two was going to have a plane crash, because every book kind of has its own thing. And I knew that book two’s thing was going to be bush pilot, an emergency situation, we’ve got a crash landing. How are these guys going to deal with it, and who is the most unsuitable guy I could put with the bush pilot in the wilderness having to deal with this emergency?
So I did that. And so that was kind of the thing that kind of spurred the book forward from that point. But as I started plotting, I realized that the bulk of the book was going to come after the plane crash. Because at first I was like, maybe I’ll do a really tight timeline, I’ll get the whole book into a week. And that just wasn’t working for these heroes. They really resisted a tight timeline. So I ended up expanding it and I was like, okay, they’re going to have to deal with this aftermath together. And so because they have to deal with it together, they kind of bond in a deeper sort of way, spending the summer together as opposed to just 24 hours in the wilderness.
And so to me, that was a real joy to watch them evolve and change. And it’s my longest book to date. You can see how thick it is. It’s a monster. But part of why it’s so big is kind of the scope of it. I was able to bring in the secondary characters, Reuben’s daughter, and then Toby’s sister and father. I have a lot of secondary characters happening in this one. And it was just really fun for me to take that initial idea–there was going to be a plane crash with these opposites attract guys, and they’re going to have to deal with it–to this more sweeping sort of story where it does become, like you said, a hurt-comfort story. How do we cope with the aftermath? And the changes that it brought within each of us. So I think that’s kind of what I think the book ends up doing.
Jeff: You mentioned the Native Alaskan aspect in book two. And before we hit record, you mentioned that book two is also the most research-heavy of these. What kind of research did you do to get it all to work out right? Because I imagine bush pilot, plane crashes, there’s research to do there, too.
Annabeth: Yeah, each element, like each sort of…and a lot of times what I do is I work in Scrivener. And in Scrivener I’ll have notes for each chapter. And in a short story, like I might have like a line or two of notes per scene. In something like this, I’ll have a long list and it’ll have the research questions for each chapter that’s going to come up. Like, okay, I need to know how a pilot would handle this sort of altitude disturbance in his thing. And what would that actually mean? What do the instruments look like? What sort of plane is he flying and what’s the weather like? I have to do a lot of research into that.
For that, I look at message boards, I look at small plane businesses, I look at write-ups of past disasters, news reporting. I look at a lot of stuff to kind of get that one detail. Like, I won’t just, you know, get one thing. I’ll look at a couple of different things to kind of get a couple of perspectives. And the same thing with the Native Alaskan details. Obviously, it’s not my own lived experience and I’m really aware of that. So I had the two beta readers who were themselves identifying as Native Alaskan. I did a lot of research with blogs, blogs written by people who identify as Native Alaskans.
Autobiographies, I did a couple of phone interviews, I really tried to get a variety of experiences so that I could bring Toby to life in a way that was both sensitive and well-rounded and that reflected a variety of sort of different opinions and different ways that sort of their lives end up unfolding. And so I’m very proud of the amount of research that went into both Toby and the book as a whole because like you said, the bush pilot, the plane crash. I had a floor plan at one point of their rental house, I have a floor plan drawn on my office wall of exactly what this rental house would look like, where it’s located, what the driveway…all this stuff. Like, I really go into the minutia.
Jeff: I like that attention to detail. Because as you said, it just brings everything more to life as it goes. Now you did mention it was a trilogy, and in September, it wraps up with “Arctic Heat”. What’s coming in that book and can you give us a little sneak peek?
Annabeth: So I am so excited for this one. I love the whole trilogy, each book was its own sort of joy to write. But “Arctic Heat” is the one that I was probably most excited about. It’s close proximity. We have a ranger who’s handed this volunteer and who’s going to be snowed in for the season. And this does happen actually. In Alaska, there are volunteer positions where you can basically go and stay in the State Park over winter. And so you’re able to basically experience an Alaskan winter with a ranger. And it’s kind of cool. So I was like, “Yeah.” When I heard about this, I was like, “Oh, yeah. This has got to be a romance.”
And so the one hero who comes from California, he’s kind of a free spirit and he has no idea what he’s in for. Even though he’s been around snow a little bit, but he has no idea what he’s in for. And then we have the older cranky ranger who also is like, he’s lost his longtime partner. She’s gone on to be back in the city and he’s really kind of cranky about this. And he’s been handed this guy, and so they’re going to spend the winter snowed in together. And along the way, they’re going to catch some feelings, and it’s going to be really fun.
And so they meet each other at training. And they’re really not sure about each other. We have Quill, who’s the ranger and Owen, who’s the younger guy from California. And Owen has a feeling about Quill kind of from the beginning. And he’s got his number. And so they end up going out to dinner. And at this point, Quill doesn’t know yet that they’re going to be snowed in together all winter. So Quill is kind of in the dark about that. But Owen is sure about kind of, he likes Quill, and he likes Quill a lot.
And so I was going to give you guys…now if you read “Arctic Wild” in the back of “Arctic Wild” there’s the first scene for this one, for “Arctic Heat”. So I didn’t want to read to you from that scene, because if you read “Arctic Wild” you’ve seen it. So I’m going to give you a little snippet of their first kiss. And it just kind of shows they’re dynamic. I think it’s just a couple of paragraphs and I’m just going to read it to you. And I’m not as good as my narrators, I have awesome narrators but we’re just going to see.
So they’re leaving a restaurant here. “They each paid their share and then headed outside. The light had started to fade, the midnight sun of the summer long past. The crisp bite to the air making Owen wished he had grabbed more than his hoodie. ‘Cold?’ Quill asked as Owen rubbed his arm. ‘A little, yeah. Warm me up, please. I know a shortcut through the alleyways back to the hotel. Lead on.’ Owen followed him as he ducked down the narrow alley, both of them walking too fast for much conversation. ‘Whoa!’ Quill’s arm shot out holding Owen back as an SUV unexpectedly backed into the alley.
Yanking Owen into a dark doorway with him, Quill frowned at the vehicle which took it sweet time vacating the alley, long enough for Owen to sense Quill’s warmth and nearness. More of that classic intoxicating scent, the harshness of their breathing that much sexier in the close quarters. The charged air around them was made worse with every brush of their arms. “You sure there’s nothing on your bucket list?” As the SUV finally moved on, Owen turned to block Quill from an easy exit. ‘Nothing I could help with?’ ‘Not sure,’ Quill hissed out of breath which was decidedly not a resounding no.
So Owen moved closer. ‘I am very open minded and discreet. You could tell me.’ ‘You’re something else,’ Quill whispered. But his tone was more awestruck than censuring. ‘So I’ve been told.’ Taking a chance, Owen put a hand at his shoulder and was relieved when Quill didn’t immediately flinch away or tell him off. ‘Come on. Take a chance. Nothing you’re curious about?’ ‘Like what?’ Owen’s voice with a harsh whisper. ‘Mmh.’ Owen pretended to think as he leaned in close enough to brush his lips against Quill’s neck. Quill was taller but not by so much that Owen had to overly stretch.
His skin tasted good, warm, ever so slightly salty. ‘This maybe,’ he moved to flip Quill’s ear lobe with his tongue, ‘Or this, so many delicious possibilities.'” And that’s the look at kind of what’s happening between them when they get started. And you’ll have to see the rest. But I loved writing Owen and Quill. They were so much fun, it takes place over a couple of months. So we get to kind of see their progression. It’s a little bit of a slow burn, each of the books in the series has been a little more slow burn.
But once they get going, there’s a lot of heat. And so it was a really fun one for me. And I really enjoyed kind of, whereas “Arctic Wild” had the bigger cast of characters, this is mainly the two of them, dealing with the elements of nature, dealing with each other, dealing with roommates issues. It’s kind of the ‘Odd Couple’ in Alaska. And so it was just a lot of fun. I can’t wait for you guys to get to see this in September.
Jeff: Have you pre-ordered this yet? Because that forced proximity is so your jam.
Will: I have enjoyed each of the books up to this point. But book three hits pretty much everything that I’m looking for in a romance. I mean, listeners, longtime listeners know, forced proximity is my absolute most favorite thing ever. So yes, that reading you just did it’s like, whew, I can’t wait.
Jeff: I think you mentioned that this is a real thing people can do to opt to go snowed-in with a ranger.
Annabeth: Yeah, they do. Yeah. So there’s volunteer positions all year long with the Alaska state parks. And with the National Parks too, though, those are a little more competitive. But you can go for the summer, you can go for the winter, and they have like little yurts or tiny cabins. Pretty rustic conditions but they’re looking for volunteers to basically help the paid rangers out because without the volunteers, they couldn’t get nearly as much done as they can. So basically, you become a winter caretaker or a summer caretaker at one of these parks.
And you get to help the Ranger but you also get to spend winter in Alaska, with all the snow and a tiny yurt. So stuff like that. And each of the sites has its own housing situation. And so that was some of the research I had to do was figure out, what would the housing situation be like at this particular site, as opposed to other sites? How are they going to get their heat? How are they going to get electric? Do they have access to the internet? All those little questions come up?
Jeff: It’s fascinating. Would you ever consider doing such a thing?
Annabeth: I have small kids. And so sometimes that seems really appealing. Like, “Oh, I could go for three months.” And other times, it’s like, “No, they’d miss me and I’d miss them and the dog would pine.”
Jeff: Research trip.
Annabeth: I’m going to say my next series is back to Oregon. We’re going to be back in Oregon but we’re going to be in Central Oregon. And so we are actually taking a research trip as a family towards later in the summer. We’re doing a research trip to go into Central Oregon to see some of the places that will be in that series. So I’m excited about that.
Jeff: Oh, cool. Not quite the same as snow in a yurt. But, you know, research trip nonetheless.
Annabeth: Yeah. Well, I get to bring the kids on that one. So it’ll be fun.
Jeff: They might enjoy snow in a yurt. I don’t know.
Annabeth: They would. They would. Yeah.
Jeff: You’ve had a prolific year, even before the “Frozen Hearts” books started coming out. You had new stuff in the “Rainbow Cove” and “Out Of Uniform” series. Are there challenges working across so many series that are so close together in release times?
Annabeth: So what I tend to do is I tend to write in blocks. So all three Alaska books were written back to back to back. But in between two of them, I took a little tiny “Rainbow Cove” break. I gave myself five days to write a novella. I was like, “Okay, I’m kind of burned on Alaska, just a little.” And so I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to give myself five days because I’m supposed to be writing these books back to back and I’m going to write a “Rainbow Cove” novella. And I did. I wrote 20k in five days. And that became “Lumber Jacked”.
And obviously editing it and stuff took more than the five days. But I got the basic draft down and then I worked on the edits for that while I went on to Alaska three. And that’s how I worked a “Rainbow Cove” in. Because it’s not a full length, it’s a novella. And then the “Out Of Uniform”, that wrapped, actually wrote that last April. So I wrote it April 2018. Then I started Alaska after that. But then it didn’t come out until January because that’s how publisher schedules work. And so I wrote it as part of Camp NaNoWriMo 2018. It was really fun. Loved writing “Rough Terrain”. So it coming out in January was just a joy.
But that kind of wrapped up a period of finishing up “Out Of Uniform” and then moving into the Alaska universe. And so I kind of go from universe to universe. I try not to hop back and forth anymore, because I’ve done that in the past. And I ended up having to reread a lot of my stuff a lot more when I’m going back and forth between series. And so I think the biggest challenge for me has been working in time for “Rainbow Cove” because that one doesn’t have publisher deadlines.
And so I tend to be overly optimistic with my publisher deadlines, and I’m like, “Oh, I’ll get this book done early.” And then I’ll get another “Rainbow Cove” in. And lately that has not been happening. The books have been going long and complicated. And I love that. I love writing long, I love writing complex books. But it has made it a challenge in terms of working more “Rainbow Cove” in.
Jeff: What is going on in “Lumber Jacked”, that people who are reading “Rainbow Cove” might want to check out?
Annabeth: So that one, like “Rainbow Cove”, is set on the Oregon coast, and all the books are. So it has a honest to goodness lumberjack as the hero. He makes a brief appearance in book two but this stands alone. If you haven’t read book two, you’re fine. And it’s just 99 cents and it’s also in KU. It’s a fun little…it’s under 30K because I ended up adding a little bonus epilogue to it. But so it has a lumberjack who is an amateur photographer on the side. He likes to take bondage pictures, and so like rope, like Shibari pictures. Like, there’s some really neat artwork done with Shibari.
And so he meets this makeup blogger, and the makeup blogger is like, “Maybe I would like to pose for one of these pictures.” And so their courtship kind of unfurls from there with photos and lumberjack plaid. And it’s a lot of fun. But I really liked the chance to write my makeup blogger hero because there’s been so many amazing male makeup bloggers recently, becoming even the face of some major brands and stuff.
And so I wanted to show that sort of side of masculinity as well. These guys have embraced more of the makeup loving, glitter loving sides of themselves. And so I wanted to do a hero on that sort of spectrum. And so that was really fun for me to get to do him and contrast him with our big burly, older lumberjack guy. And so it’s fun.
Jeff: That’s cool. And for “Out Of Uniform”, is “Rough Terrain” the end of the line for that series?
Annabeth: Well, I never say never and I do have more military in Alaska. One of my guys is a former Air Force pilot. And in the ‘Heart To Heart’ charity anthology coming up this fall – I’ll have a marine in that one. So I haven’t left military romance completely. But I think “Rough Terrain” kind of brought “Out Of Uniform” full circle in a lot of ways. It felt like book seven, a natural sort of stopping point for this part of the series right now. But I’m not ruling out more SEALs in the future. We’ll just have to see what the future brings.
There’s a lot of things I want to explore and a lot of series I want to do. And so, we’ll just have to see. But I think fans that like the “Out Of Uniform” will really like something that’s coming from me in 2020, which is going to be smoke jumpers. So I’ve got the band of brothers again, but they’re firefighters. And they’re in Central Oregon, like I said. They’re in Central Oregon fighting forest fires. And it’s going to be really…I’m looking forward to the research and I’m really looking forward to being back with a band of brothers kind of group of friend heroes. And it should be really interesting and fun.
Jeff: Is that some of the research you’re doing on the Oregon trip this time?
Annabeth: Yeah. So we’ll be actually going to some Oregon fire stations. We’ll look at like both the little towns that they live in. We’ll also go to some of the state forest areas there, see some actual forest damage and stuff. I’ve got some different things planned for us to kind of really…I want to really get my five senses into that area, because I live in Oregon, obviously. But I live more in the valley. And so I’m going more into that Central Oregon terrain, it is way different, like you said. It’s way different terrain. And so I want to really immerse myself in that to really get that flavor for readers.
Jeff: That’s very exciting. You’ve hinted at some stuff in the future like with “The Smoke Jumpers”. Of course, “Arctic Heat” comes out in the fall. Anything else you can tease out in the universe? Fill us with what’s coming up.
Annabeth: So I have a book coming…so “The Smoke Jumpers” will be coming summer 2020. And in between, “Arctic Heat” and “The Smoke Jumpers”, I have my first book with Sourcebooks coming. And it is a YA-NA crossover, little bit lower heat, but a lot of the same fun and energy that a YA-NA…you’d expect in a YA-NA crossover. I think fans who have liked some of the lower heat ones that have been rising up the charts like “Red, White, and Royal Blue”, that sort of book, I think they might like this sort of tone.
And it’s a road trip romance, which I love road trips. Like I just said, I love road trips. And so I’m really excited. It’s a road trip romance with gamer guys. They’re in college, and they’re going to a big gaming convention. Like imagine ComicCon, but it’s for a card game that they both play. Like, Magic The Gathering, but I kind of invented a fake card game for them.
So they’re like these gamer guys who have to make the convention on time to get their chance in the big tournament. And it’s going to be a lot of fun. I don’t think they’ve gone public with the title yet. But it is coming in April 2020. And so I can’t wait to see the cover they’re doing and it’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be in bookstores, which is…I’m really excited about. So it’s going to be in the trade paperback.
Jeff: Yeah, we were excited to see…I believe it was the first of the “Frozen Hearts” series that we found in our local Barnes and Noble.
Annabeth: I know. I’m so stoked. Readers keep tagging me in pictures in the wild of these books. And it makes me so happy. And readers, if you see the books in the wild, take a picture for me. I do love seeing them, I love…and if you like your local bookstore carrying more LGBTQ fiction, let the bookstore know.
Even if you’re not buying a book that day, say, “Hey, I’d like to see more fiction like this.” Not just mine, but a lot of other authors that are coming into mass market and stuff. The more appetite there is for that, I think the more we’ll see that in bookstores and stuff and airport kiosks and stuff. And so I’m excited for that.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s an exciting time. And it feels like “Red, White, and Royal Blue” may lead some of that too. I know that’s not a mass-market book. But the fact that they’re getting picked up in Target is pretty exciting. So definitely ask for those books.
Annabeth: Yeah. I think the more you see that and my…and Sourcebooks has a lot sort of planned around the release of this road trip romance. That should take it to a broader audience. So I’m really excited to see some of what they’ve got planned and coming. And so it’s been really fun to work on that. And that may end up being a series. We just have to see.
Jeff: Cool. I’m thinking on your backlist, is this kind of a first for YA for you?
Annabeth: Well, they’re college age. And so I’ve done college age with a high heat level in “Winning Bracket”. And then I did college age with a lower heat level in one of my freebies, “First In Line”, which is set in the same universe as “Winning Bracket”. And so that’s a sweeter one, it just has a kiss. The one that I’m talking about is somewhere in between there.
There are some love scenes, they’re just not quite as graphic. And so it was kind of fun to go back to the college universe and kind of…I love that age of hero and I really enjoyed kind of being in that universe with them and that age for a little bit. And so that was fun. But it’s not like YA is typically considered senior in high school and older. So that’s why they’re calling this kind of a crossover because they are in college but upper YA readers will probably enjoy this.
Jeff: Cool. Awesome. I’m excited for that one.
Will: Yeah, that sounds…
Jeff: I love YA new adult so much. So what’s the best way for everyone to keep up with you online?
Annabeth: So I’m on Facebook. I have Annabeth’s Angels as our Facebook reader group. I welcome everyone into there, whether you’ve read me or not. If you want to talk about fun books, we welcome people in there. I’m also on Facebook myself. I welcome people to follow me on Facebook.
I’m on Twitter and Instagram, little bit less than Facebook. Facebook’s kind of my big addiction. But I am on Instagram and Twitter. And I also do playlists for all of my books on Spotify. So if you’re on Spotify, you can follow me on Spotify and see kind of the music that’s influencing the different books.
Jeff: Fantastic. We will link up to all that stuff in the show notes. For sure. Thank you so much for hanging out with us. We wish you the best of luck with everything you’ve got coming out later this year and into 2020.
Annabeth: Thank you.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith. Reviewed by Jeff.
This was the summer book I didn’t know I was looking for. Not only is it set during the summer, but–in the best way possible–it moves like a lazy summer, filled with all the best things. It’s hard to explain that aspect of it, but it’s one of the things I loved about this book with the feel that with everything else that happens there was the vibe of the lazy summer.
Something Like Gravity opens as summer break from school begins. Chris has just arrived at his Aunt Isobel’s where he’ll stay as he tries to reset after being assaulted the year before as he came out as transgender. Meanwhile, Maia, who lives across the field, is still reeling from the death of her older sister. Over the course of the summer, Chris and Maia find comfort and love with each other, reveal their secrets and are able to heal–although it’s far from easy.
The meet cute for Chris and Maia is nearly fatal and sets the tone for how their early relationship works–rather adversarial. Chris goes out for a drive with the car that he gets to use for the summer and he practically runs over Maia, who was stopped on her bicycle in the middle of the road. The two hardly speaking in the aftermath but after that gravity starts to pull them together.
In the hands of a lesser writer, building a story of first love set amongst loss and trauma would likely be a disaster. Amber, however, crafts a story that I had a hard time putting down because I wanted to see how things would go–both the cringy difficult moments as well as the super sweet ones.
I enjoyed both Maia and Chris’s journeys. Maia’s loss of her sister looms large over her family–Maia, her parents and even the family dog haven’t figured out the way forward. Maia tries to learn more about here sister by looking through all of the photographs and the places in them. Carrying her sister’s camera nearly constantly has many in the small town thinking that she’s trying to become her sister. It’s even something she lets Chris believe–that she is a photographer and has been taking pictures even though the camera has no film.
Chris’s family is also under stress. His coming out didn’t go well. Not only was he assaulted, but his mom hasn’t adjusted well and his dad seems to be overcompensating for that. He’s come to Aunt Isobel’s to figure out what he wants to do for the next school year, to give his parents time and to find himself–including getting back to running which he enjoyed so much before the attack. He also has to decide what he wants to share with Maia.
Chris and Maia have a lot of internal dialogue and it works so well. There’s a lot for them to work out for themselves and it’s some of the most powerful parts of the book.
Some of the lazy summer vibe plays into the romance between Chris and Maia. Amber writes their falling for each other in such a wonderful way. There’s a perfect build up as they learn more about each other–at the same time it’s complicated by big secrets. The moments of meltdown and tremendous emotional strength provide significant growth moments for them.
The way Amber resolves all plots–Chris and Maia’s relationship as well as between them and their parents–were so well done. I loved the meaningful talks the teens had with their parents over the span of a few days. There was much to handle and, like the rest of the story, the pacing was perfect. Chris and Maia end up in a good place too as they prepare for another year of school.
I’d love to see more of these two and how their story continues.
Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert. Reviewed by Will.
Buttoned up east coast lawyer Ruben is forced to take a vacation by himself in the wilds of Alaska. Needless to say, the prospect doesn’t thrill him, until he meets Toby, his handsome bush pilot tour guide.
Toby has dealt with tough customers like Ruben before, and soon enough they’re enjoying each other’s company while exploring Alaska – until an unexpected storm sends their plane crashing into the remote wilderness.
After they’re rescued, Toby needs time to heal from his injuries. Rueben comes up with the plan that he’ll stay in Alaska for the summer, rent a house for himself and his teenage daughter and have Toby stay with them. Ruben can care for Toby, while Toby can come up with activities than Rueben can use to reconnect with his daughter, Amelia.
Amelia is no cutesy romance novel kid, she’s realistically surly and constantly annoyed by her dad – but she gradually begins to enjoy her vacation, just as her dad is enjoying all the time spent with Toby.
Love is definitely in the air for our two heroes, but both are unwilling to admit that it’s more than just a fling – primarily because they’re both stubborn in their own ways, as well as an unending number of outside obstacles to their happily ever after. Both of them have complicated family and work situations to deal with.
After weeks of nighttime cuddles and furtive blowjobs, Toby’s injuries are finally healed enough that he and Ruben can sleep together, it’s magical – and then, as it must in all romance novels, the black moment arrives.
A serious issue with Toby’s dad forces him to take a look at his obligations – he wants happiness with Ruben and Amelia, but that doesn’t seem possible.
It takes some serious soul searching until Toby finally realizes that he can’t let a misguided sense of pride keep him from accepting help when needed. By the same token, Ruben can’t swoop in and solve everyone’s problems with his money and influence.
As with the previous book in this series, the author takes the time to let the story breathe – giving the characters time to know and like one another, before falling in love with each other. This extra time spent on the story also gives readers a chance to know and understand the unique and complicated situation our heroes find themselves in, primarily concerning their obligations to their respective families.
Annabeth Albert has written yet another winner with Arctic Wild, giving us a terrific romance featuring two dynamic and interesting heroes that readers are sure to root for.