Reviewer Ellen Greiss Alexander: Ellen is an accomplished musician, mother of two and the author of seven music books, five teen novels (including her four book series, The Prefab Four) and a book of lyrical poetry. You can contact Ellen or read samples of her books at www.theprefabfour.com.
From the first moment Raya Walden spotted Jack Castille hitchhiking on the way to Hideaway Lodge, “a strange feeling crept up her spine, yet it wasn’t chilling. It was strangely peaceful.” These words set the tone for a bittersweet love story that will last forever… and beyond.
For Raya, first love hits hard and hits fast. She has never, in her young life, met anyone quite like Jack. He is everything she is not: passionate about life, a free spirit and someone who has known great loss. Raya is captivated by his openness and trusts him almost immediately. She envies his experiences of life and the fact that he’s found beauty all over the world – even in the most remote and poorest of countries.
As the summer flies by and the two star-crossed lovers form an unbreakable bond, the writer takes you along on their many adventures – to Bristlecone Peak; to the Four Corners region and, finally, to the seemingly haunted Stanley Hotel. Every step of their journey is so beautifully described that the reader can almost feel the rain and smell the columbine.
But with the end of summer comes the end of innocence. When Jack tells Raya that he must go to New Mexico the thought of leaving him is too much for her to bear. So Raya drops out of school and decides to join him. It is an impulsive and immature move on her part but, nevertheless, she goes home for three days to settle up her life and returns to Colorado to find Jack missing. According to his roommate and the search and rescue team, Jack had gone climbing alone and hadn’t been heard from since. The official report, based on their findings, was that Jack was dead.
Even after the search was called off Raya continued to search for her soul mate to no avail. There was a memorial service that she barely remembered sitting through and, had it not been for Jack’s mother Lauryn and his friend Aadesh, Raya might not have survived the ordeal or found the strength and determination to get on with her life without him. But Jack would always remain a part of her – living through the baby she didn’t even know she was carrying. Sadly, her grief would eventually overtake her and she would lose that last bit of him as well.
The story picks up seven years later with Raya now living in Texas with her brother and teaching Special Ed at an elementary school. Her one real friend at the school, Stacie, convinces her it’s time to get on with her life. She introduces Raya to Colt Brewer and they embark on a whirlwind romance. At least it seems that way for Colt. Raya still keeps Jack too close to her heart and it makes it that much harder for her to commit. But commit she does when he asks her to marry him on Christmas Day.
As they prepare to marry, Colt’s inner demons come out in a variety of unexpected ways. Raya has serious doubts and reservations but goes through with the wedding anyway… and then the nightmare really begins. Colt slowly unravels and takes his drunken anger out on Raya. But no matter how much physical and emotional abuse he throws her way she continues to fight for her marriage. Then one day, after she finally leaves him, he nearly kills her. But something (or someone) prevents that from happening.
With Colt now behind bars and Raya’s body and soul once again healed, she starts to feel alive and free for the first time in a long time. She heads back to Colorado – the one place where she was truly and completely happy. After receiving a ‘message’ on a mountaintop from her beloved Jack, she knows what she must do next. So she continues on to New Mexico, travels to Kenya and finally ends up back in Colorado where she completes her life’s journey.
I would highly recommend this book. I would have liked to learn more about the secondary characters: Natalie, Mandy and Chris, but it is a beautifully written novel and, aside from the bold-lettered spiritual outbursts (which felt at times like shouting in a text), it should appeal to all readers of fiction, romance and even fantasy.
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