Title: Arctic Sun (Frozen Hearts #1)
Author: Annabeth Albert
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: April 1, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance, Hurt/Comfort/Healing
Page Count: 384 pages
Reviewed by: Megan
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Everything’s bigger in Alaska, especially the HEAs. Annabeth Albert kicks off the brand-new Frozen Hearts series with Arctic Sun, an opposites-attract romance between a rugged outdoorsman and a smoking hot former male model.
He’s built a quiet life for himself in Alaska. But it doesn’t stand a chance against the unrelenting pull of a man who’s everything he shouldn’t want.
Ex-military mountain man Griffin Barrett likes his solitude. It keeps him from falling back into old habits. Bad habits. He’s fought too hard for his sobriety to lose control now. However, his gig as a wildlife guide presents a new kind of temptation in superhot supermodel River Vale. Nothing the Alaskan wilderness has to offer has ever called to Griffin so badly. And that can only lead to trouble…
River has his own methods for coping. Chasing adventure means always moving forward. Nobody’s ever made him want to stand still—until Griffin. The rugged bush pilot is the very best kind of distraction, but the emotions he stirs up in River feel anything but casual, and he’s in no position to stay put.
With temptation lurking in close quarters, keeping even a shred of distance is a challenge neither’s willing to meet. And the closer Griffin gets to River, the easier it is to ignore every last reason he should run.
Publisher’s Note: Arctic Sun deals with topics some readers may find difficult, including sobriety and eating disorders.
Annabeth Albert is an auto buy for me. She has written some of my very first and my very favorite m/m romances. And, she writes a damn good curmudgeon. Add to that the fact that I had a boyfriend from Alaska when I was in my early 20s and I went to visit him in the middle of winter up in Fairbanks. His cabin had no electricity. It was magical. Snow, fires, Aurora Borealis…..it has made me a sucker for HEA’s that take place in the Land Of The Midnight Sun. I feel like from reading Albert’s work I can tell that she tries to challenge herself. Each of her novels seems to offer a more complex set of heroes. Sometimes the challenge is the unusual situations through which her heroes have to navigate their way and sometimes with a challenging set of main characters for whom their HEA is very hard won. Arctic Sun is no exception. In fact, I really did not know as I read this book how Albert was going to get Griffin and River to their HEA.
In some ways, Arctic Sun is a story of opposites attract. Griffin Barrett and River Vale each have demons. The way in which they have chosen to deal with them and not fall into old habits are quite opposite. Griffin is an alcoholic in recovery. He was in rehab, which his mother paid for. He feels a tremendous amount of guilt over the money spent by his mother. He was a pilot in the Air Force and now he is a pilot for his family’s wilderness tour company. He copes by strictly adhering to his routines. River Vale is a former supermodel who left the life behind when his eating disorder nearly killed him. Vale has transformed from supermodel to a writer who penned a well-received self-help/ memoir/ travelogue. He keeps moving, always moving, never staying in one place for long. As long as he keeps moving, he feels like he can stave off the worst of his eating disorder. That being said, one common thing in their journeys is that they are largely going it alone. Griffin doesn’t lean on anyone to help, he doesn’t attend Alcoholics Anonymous or talk to a therapist. He avoids talking about recovery with his family. River is cut off from his family. Having left home after the pain of his mother’s death and his father’s quick remarriage, River feels like he can’t go home. To go home would be to stop moving and confront the pain of his mother’s death and other things that contributed to him having an eating disorder.
Griffin and River meet as Griffin if roped in to leading a photography tour for his family’s business. River, an amateur photographer is signed up to take the tour. Griffin has a natural talent for photography. But he denies his talent. From the moment they lay eyes on each other there is an attraction. The guys get to know each other and the other members of the tour and develop a relationship, one, both guys insist is a fling. With the help of a scheduling snafu requiring them to share a hotel room at one of their stops they become intimate. River and Griffin are in so much pain and they know that a relationship between them is a bad idea. However, as in the pages of m/m books everywhere, they cannot help themselves! Both men know that things could never go anywhere since Griffin is rooted to his routine and life in rural Alaska and River can’t stay in one place for long.
Griffin and River are both fighting battles and coping the best way they know how. Albert progresses the love story slowly, giving them plenty of time to talk themselves out of what they are feeling. It is here that we learn more about one of Griffin’s main sources of guilt, his best friend Hank. Griffin hankered after his childhood best friend. It was Hank’s idea to leave Alaska and join the Air Force. Griffin followed. Griffins injury in the Air Force and Hank’s death and his inability to protect Hank are a tremendous source of guilt for Griffin. One of the things that surprised me in the story is that Hank turned out to be a very big jerk. He made homophobic comments and made fun of Griffin for his artistic tendencies. It made me feel incredibly sad for Griffin, that the man who had been his best friend most of his life, and he cared about as more than a friend, was such a negative force in his life.
In the last quarter of the book, Griffin and River make a concerted effort to heal from their wounds so they can be together. I always enjoy how Albert’s characters communicate and make a plan about how to move forward together and how to create a life that is healthy and satisfies them both. Griffin and River are no different. Their HEA requires them to stop going it alone and rely on family and other resources to stay healthy. Once they do that, they are able to stop fighting their feelings for each other and embrace their creative endeavors.
While I enjoyed this book, I found Griffin and River’s story to be a bit of a hard read. Their wounds were so deep and they were trying to be so strong. As mentioned, I do love a curmudgeon and Annabeth Albert writes a good one, but I found Griffin to be on the bitter side on curmudgeonly. His insistence on such an isolated existence, his rejection of his creativity, his painful relationship with his best friend Hank, all of these items together served to make Griffin seem not very self-aware. I had some issue also with the military part of the story. I felt this part of the story was not developed adequately to actually be a part of the story. The details are vague on Griffin’s leg injury, how Hank died, why Griffin would feel guilt about his death. I would have like to have known more detail about Griffin’s time in the military, or perhaps, cut it out altogether. As it is, I felt like the purpose of this part of the story was only to say that Griffin had gotten out of Alaska for a period of time. Though Arctic Sun not my favorite Albert story, I will certainly be reading the rest of the series since I can’t resist romance set in the vast state of Alaska.