Reuben Graham is a busy attorney who spends pretty much all of his time focused on work. He has agreed to go on a trip to Alaska with some friends, but when they have to bail, Reuben isn’t particularly looking forward to the solo trip. He figures he can squeeze in as much work as possible in between outings on the plane tour he has planned.
Toby Kooly works hard as a tour guide to help take care of his father and his younger sisters. He is used to getting difficult tourists to relax and enjoy their trips, and although Reuben starts off glued to his phone, he begins to slowly appreciate the beautiful surroundings. But when the weather takes a sudden turn, Toby is forced to make an emergency landing that leaves the men injured and stranded together.
Once they are rescued, Reuben realizes he has a new perspective on his life and what he wants for himself. Work may not be his top priority any longer and when it is clear that his relationship with his daughter has suffered, he decides to take some time to re-evaluate by spending the summer with Amelia in Alaska. With Toby severely injured and in need of someplace to stay and some assistance getting around, Reuben offers to let him spend the summer with him and Amelia.
The two men find that the bond that started to grow during their tour is turning into more. While both figured their connection would be nothing more than a summer fling, unexpected feelings are now involved. But Toby can’t imagine Reuben being interested in him long term; Reuben is rich and older and has a life on the East Coast. Toby also isn’t comfortable taking assistance from Reuben, but between his injuries and his resulting money trouble, things are getting away from him. Now Toby must learn to allow Reuben in and accept that needing help isn’t a sign of weakness. If the men can find a compromise, they may be able to find a way to a future together.
Arctic Wild is the second book in Annabeth Albert’s Frozen Hearts series and follows Toby, who we met briefly in Arctic Sun as one of Griffin’s coworkers. While the story takes place within the same community and there are side characters who appear in both books, this book would stand alone just fine.
As with Arctic Sun, what stands out most for me in this book is the wonderful depictions of Alaska. Annabeth Albert has a knack for really making the beautiful sights come alive. I could picture the gorgeous scenery and unique spots the men visit and Albert really brings out the flavor of the area through her descriptions. The portions of the book that focus on the men touring and the resulting crash and rescue were the most exciting for me.
I also appreciated that Albert incorporates a character who is a native Alaskan in Toby and that we get a nice sense of his culture in the book. Toby talks about a lot of his family traditions and we get some background on his customs. Romances featuring indigenous characters are rare and I really was thrilled to see this inclusion in the story and it really brings a lot to the book.
My issue here is that this is a very long story (Amazon has it at about 400 pages) and things felt slow through the middle. The first quarter or so focuses on the tour and the men being stranded, and things pick up again toward the last quarter when the conflict comes to a head and the guys have to work out their issues. But there is a very long stretch in the middle that just felt slow where not much seems to happen. Toby and Reuben are in the rental house with Amelia, who is a pretty bratty 14-year old. Granted, she may be justified as it seems like her parents do nothing other than work and have no time for her. But reading about a grumpy teen who is surly and unpleasant as she tries to adjust to her new surroundings and her father suddenly being back in her life wasn’t particularly enjoyable to me.
The storyline with Toby and Reuben also just doesn’t feel like enough to carry so much of the book. Toby is healing while Reuben and Amelia have various outings. The men start a sexual relationship and it is clear that a romantic one is developing, despite their intentions to keep it casual. But there is a lot of circling around as Toby reflects on his bad financial situation (and his unwillingness to tell Reuben about it), his worries about taking care of his father and sister, and his certainty that Reuben isn’t interested in him long term. Toby has an incredibly strong sense that needing help is a weakness, and while Albert does a great job establishing clearly why that is, it also became frustrating to read about. He has this whole “real men don’t need help” thing going on that I didn’t really enjoy. The men do finally get some good conversation and both realize that they need to compromise more and meet in the middle, so there is a nice resolution. But it all just felt sluggish through the middle and there just wasn’t enough happening here for me to carry such a long book.
I think where this book really shines is the great depictions of Alaska and the native culture, as well as the excitement of the crash and rescue. I also really enjoyed the scenes where we reconnect with the team from the tour company. But the book just felt too slow with things moving over the same ground for too long to really carry such a long story. All that said, I am super excited for the set up for the next book in the series, so I will definitely be back for more.