Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: Hearts Awakened

Hearts Awakened
Linda Winfree
Contemporary Romance
Hearts of the South/Book 6
Samhain/September 2, 2008

It’s not the past that wounds us…it’s the ghosts we hold on to.

A lifetime ago Mark Cook’s pregnant wife vanished, taking everything and leaving an empty, aching hole in his life. Since then, as penance for his failure as a husband and father, he’s refused to allow himself to live. Refused to lay his sleeping heart on the line for any woman.

Enter Tori Calvert, his best friend’s baby sister. Suddenly, against his will—and against his better judgment—that same damaged heart seems determined to reawaken. And Mark’s not sure he can withstand the pain.

When she was a teenager, a vicious attack ripped away Tori’s very essence as a woman. Finally she feels ready to focus her existence on something other than her job as a rape crisis counselor. And to step outside the shelter of her loving, protective family. She trusts Mark more than any man, yet fear holds her back.

Fear that even the healing light of love may not be enough to banish the shadows of the past.

Mark and Tori - two people hiding from their pasts. This was such an emotional story. Winfree knows how to show the pain of loss and the long lasting effects that loss has a someone. What surprised me was what a good feeling the story left me with, even with the very difficult themes Winfree took on.

Tori Calvert runs the local women's crisis center where she helps women deal with domestic violence, having suffered the horrendous violation of rape when she was a teen. It's been years but the damage the rape inflicted on Tori still controls her. She has tried dating but after the last guy she dated turned out to be a horrible mistake, she now questions her judgement when it comes to men. The exception being Mark Cook, her brother Tick's coworker and good friend. Tori has had feelings for Mark for quite some time but doesn't feel comfortable action on them. I loved how Tori is portrayed as a woman who has overcome much of her past but realistically it's still there and has shaped her life. She's a very strong heroine who understandably still has a vulnerable side when it comes to men.

Mark Cook, aka Cookie, has been a cop for nearly 20 years. He's a nice guy, a guy everyone likes but he doesn't talk about his past. He's very good at keeping up a facade of this easy going, ladies man when the reality is Mark is trying to keep any deeper feeling buried. So he dates women he knows he won't form any long-term attachment to. Then there's Tori. The way Mark fights his growing feelings for Tori really showed how much he's holding on to the past but there's a part of him that wants to start living for more than just his work. Winfree does a wonderful job in showing Mark's need to have more than just casual flings but he still has a fear of committing to a serious relationship.

Tori and Mark's romantic relationship develops out of growing friendship. Both are hesitant to explore the romance yet each has an almost desperate need for more than what they now have. I loved these two together! Their romance was believable in not only the obstacles they had to overcome but how they dealt with those problems. As they become closer they really start to "get" each other and that is so important when building any kind of relationship. I also loved how they looked out for each other long before the romance. They both lived in the same apartment complex and each kept an eye out for the other, with Mark looking out for Tori's safety and Tori watching to make sure Mark got home after his late nights. It was sweet!

A story in the Hearts of the South series could not be complete without having some well meaning, if a bit meddling, friends and family members involved. We get to catch up with past characters and see how both Mark and Tori look to others for advice and support. I really like this small southern community.

If I had any problems it was Tick's stubbornness when it came to Tori and Mark. It took him a long time to look beyond Mark's past string of flings to see the man he admired. Tick's overprotective nature with Tori began to wear thin. If it had been up to him, Tori would never have dated let alone had a serious relationship. Tori really should have stood up to Tick a lot sooner.

There are a roller coaster of emotions played out in Tori and Mark's story. The very difficult subjects of rape, abuse and loss of a loved one are all seen through these characters. The darker story line is tempered by the affable teasing of Mark and Tori's family and friends. Another well written addition to the Hearts of the South series.

Rating: A

Hearts of the South

Truth and Consequences
His Ordinary Life
Hold On to Me
Anything But Mine
Memories of Us
Hearts Awakened
Fall Into Me
Facing It


  1. Great review, Leslie! I agree with everything you said. This is, I think, my favorite book in the series. I adored Mark & Tori. Mark was so much more than we've been led to believe. And I loved that Tori has learned how to be strong again. Great book.

  2. Glad the author came back with a winner :)

    Is there closure for Mark about his wife?

  3. Lori ~ This is such a solid series, but yeah, this one is definitely a favorite.

    Nath, nath, always wanting the spoilers! LOL Okay, here it is.

    Yes, there is closure for Mark but I'm not telling you what it is. :D