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{June 22, 2012}   {ARC Review} One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf

From Goodreads: On a bitter March day, as a sudden snowstorm envelops the small town of Broken Branch, Iowa, an unknown man with a gun enters the town’s only school and takes a classroom of children hostage. As awareness of the situation spreads, the panicked community is ready to do anything to protect their children, but can only watch and wait.

As a teacher with a long career behind her, Evelyn Oliver is ready to enjoy retirement with her loving husband. But now, faced with a crazy man armed with a gun, terrorizing her classroom, she’d rather die than fail to protect any of her students. But why is he doing this? Evelyn’s been scouring her mind but doesn’t recognize the intruder. Maybe one of the students is the key?

Holly Thwaite left Broken Branch and her family behind without a word eighteen years ago, vowing never to return. But after a debilitating accident leaves her recovering in a hospital in Arizona, she’s forced to send her children to her hometown to be looked after by their grandfather, the man she never wanted them to meet. Will Thwaite never understood why his estranged daughter, Holly, ran away all those years ago. But now that her children are in his care, he refuses to fail his daughter again. One way or another, Will is going to get his grandkids, P.J. and Augie, out of that school safely even if he has to go in and get them himself. What Will doesn’t know is that thirteen-year-old Augie is just as determined to rescue her little brother from the killer and help her classmates, even if it means putting herself in the crosshairs of the gunman.

Police officer Meg Barrett wants to know who the intruder is and why he’s doing this. Whoever it is, there’s no excuse for this. Meg should know. She’s had plenty of hardships herself. But with innocent lives at stake, Meg is prepared to risk her own life to save these hostages, although it means disobeying orders and taking on the gunman face-to-face.

As the standoff progresses and the snowstorm rages outside, anxiety and frustration start to build to dangerous levels. But everyone knows how precarious the situation is. One wrong move, even a breath, could have the most devastating of consequences.

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I really enjoyed this novel!  Told from the perspectives of multiple characters, Gudenkauf intricately weaves together the harrowing tale of five people affected by a lone gunman as he attempts to exact his revenge on the world from the confines of a school.  I absolutely adore novels with multiple points of view, especially when the author uses it to build up suspense, which is exactly what Gudenkauf does.  As readers get to know the characters as individuals, learning their thoughts, fears, regrets, and ambitions, nearly every chapter ends on a cliffhanger in which the reader is about to find out something, or learn something s/he is very interested in, and then the point of view changes, making the reader wait.  With five separate narrators, the suspense is constantly building, and while the cliffhangers are a tease, the very next chapter picks up where another cliffhanger left off, and the reader is suddenly thrust into another’s thoughts and is finally able to find out the answers to a previous cliffhanger, which makes it doubly exciting and keeps the reader on a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.

Out of all the characters, I really liked Augie the best.  She has a spunky personality and I enjoyed following her throughout the story as she attempts to save her brother.  She is a very determined young heroine, and though she has many issues she must work through, from feeling responsible for her mother’s accident and her little brother’s safety to learning to trust others around her, she is an amazing young woman.  I also loved Ms. Oliver.  Though she seems to be a bit crotchety in the beginning, she truly loves her students and wants to protect them at all costs.  I think I identified with her the most because I, too, am a teacher, and watching her deal with such a scary reality was very powerful and touching.  We all hear of gunmen coming into schools and wreaking havoc, but no one thinks it will ever happen to them.  And then, we all think about how we would react, but honestly, no one really knows how they will react.  I would like to say that I would be just as heroic as Ms. Oliver, though I pray I’ll never have to find out if I would be or not.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story and was taken aback by the identity of the gunman. Gudenkauf does an amazing job keeping the gunman’s identity a secret until the big reveal, and I love authors that are able to stump me as I read.  I highly recommend this novel! Four stars!    

Harlequin has ben extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on June 26, 2012.

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