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In The Stillness - Andrea Randall **EDIT** 07/11/2013
$3.99 $0.99 until Saturday. What a steal! This is one of my all-time favourites!

5 heart-tugging stars!!!

To say that this book affected me in a huge way would be the understatement of the year. By the end of the book I was wailing 'I DON'T WANT IT TO ENDDDDD!!!!' while simultaneously hugging my iPad.

When I see reviewers or book blurbs describe a book as 'raw' I never really understood it. So I decided to look up the definition and three meanings stood out: 1. not diluted or blended; 2. not being in polished, finished, or processed form; and 3. not protected, or susceptible to hurt. And then clear as day, I thought, this writing is what it means to have raw honesty. Ms. Randall doesn't shy away from the hard truth, even if it means putting her heroine out there for sharks to feast on.

Natalie Collins and Ryker Manning met at a concert at the end of their freshman year. Their relationship was the quintessential young-love romance. They were crazy about each other, always wanting to be together. They were having fun and falling in love, when the unthinkable happened. On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the twin towers. This act of terrorism meant that the U.S. was going to be at war, and Ryker, being a member of the National Guard, was eventually called for duty along with his best friend, Lucas.

Fast forward to ten years later, Natalie is married to Eric, a man she blames for the unsatisfactory life she's living. She is also a mother to Max and Oliver, the four-year old twins she never wanted to have in the first place. She is bitter at the fact that her future and her career were put aside when she unexpectedly got pregnant and was forced to be a stay-at-home mom. She's vocal about her resentment and unhappiness, and is unapologetic about it. For some reason, her depression spiraled in recent months. To help her deal with her pain, she cuts herself - her coping mechanism when Ryker went to fight in the war years ago. Now she is forced to relive painful memories of her past while she examines her present life.

It hurts at first. Like hell. But a second later it's gone - just gone - and I'm left with a visual reminder for the rest of the day that I'm in control of my pain, anxiety, and fear.

We get to the bottom of Nat and Ryker's story through alternating narrations of the present and the past. I honestly thought it was done so flawlessly and so brilliantly. I was never left confused, and each succeeding glimpse into the past was a perfect companion to help us understand the present circumstances and why Nat came to do what she does.

Natalie, as a narrator, is such a refreshing read. One can easily argue that she is a selfish, weak woman who can't even take responsibility for her mess of a life. But this is what I loved about her. She wasn't written to be likeable. She wasn't brave and self-sacrificing. She was just real. She tells it, or thinks it, as it is and that's what I appreciated most about her.

Bang! Bang! Bang! The bathroom door rattles under the force of four-year-old fists.
"Mommy! Ollie pulled my hair!"
They're. Always. Around.
I sigh, turn on the sink, and address the situation from behind the closed door. "Max, don't tattle. Oliver, leave your brother alone!"
God, is it too much to ask for it to be kindergarten already?

While I felt for her, I never, not once, felt sorry for her, because deep down I knew she was a smart and strong person. She just made poor choices. Even when she whined about her kids she never neglected them. In fact, she always put their needs above everything else.

Another thing I absolutely loved was the shadowy presence of Nat and Ryker's love even when their moments together were limited. Ryker wasn't there but he was so f*cking there. One moment I'd be merrily reading along and suddenly, BAM! I'd be hit with a sentence or a dialogue which would send me in fits of crying.

"How long was he gone?"
I act like I have to think about it for a minute. "Five months."
...Three days, nine hours, and precious minutes.

I shakily unclasped the ribbon from my jacket and stared at it in my hands.
"Please come home, Ryker.Please, I whispered to the ribbon, as if it had a direct line to Ryker's ears.

Okay, yeah, right there - right there - is where Ryker pushed me, and I fell. But, over there is where he swept me, literally, off my feet when he first came home, and we kissed like no one was watching.

As fate would have it, they encounter each other again, and this time, they want to face the music so they can finally let go of their past. It's not easy, especially when they're fighting their own demons. But with the help of sound counsel from their therapists, friends and family, they might just be able to move on.

Needless to say, the growth in this story is amazing to witness. It's easy to judge others when they are visibly drunk, or stoned, or emotionally binge-eating or cutting. What we don't realize is that self-harm comes in different ways. You can endlessly beat yourself up for something you fault yourself with. You can choose to deprive yourself of something you deserve, whether it be your dream job or your chance at a loving, healthy relationship.

I can't express enough how moved I was with this book. There were so many characters I wanted to hug and receive hugs from (Ollie!). And God, I loved the writing and the author's ability to convey every thought and emotion into those pages. It was an emotional read. In fact, I don't think I've stopped crying from 50% onwards (I'm still brought to tears every time I think about the photo with the white knuckles). While it contained heavy subjects that proved to be heart-wrenching, it was also a feel-good book. I can't recommend it enough to anyone who'd love a story about second chances, sacrifices, and healing. One of my new all-time favourites for sure!

God, I miss you.
I love you so much, Natalie, and when I get home I'm going to keep loving you until you tell me to stop. But don't, please. Don;t tell me to stop.
I love you.
With everything.

Now you see why?

Many thanks to CHEL for buddy-reading it with me! Good to know that I'm not the only one who was a mess after reading this =)