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Summary

A new love story from Anna Todd begins with The Falling, the first novel in a new trilogy from the number one internationally bestselling author of the After series.

Twenty-year-old Karina is proud of the independent life she is trying to create for herself in Ft. Benning, Georgia. A dutiful officer’s daughter, supportive sister to a troubled twin brother, and caring friend to her roommate, Elodie, Karina always puts the needs of others ahead of her own and prides herself on being a fixer of broken things—whether it’s the house she’s just bought or the fragmented family she works hard to keep intact.

Like anyone who has grown up around an army base, Karina also knows the background noise that follows men and women home from war. And when she meets Kael, a handsome soldier on the cusp of discharge, she’s immediately intrigued by his brooding presence and enigmatic silence. As their uncertain and unexpected friendship starts to turn into something more, Karina tries to piece together Kael’s story: he is emotionally closed off, recovering from wounds and other trauma in the aftermath of two tours in Afghanistan. In her practice as a physical therapist, Karina has a strong desire to help him heal, and though it challenges her many insecurities and anxieties, she has an equally strong desire to trust him. But that trust is fragile, like the preciousness of a soldier’s life. It can be gone in an instant. Ultimately facing a crossroads, their relationship will be tested by the one thing that Karina cannot accept, forgive, or understand.

Anna Todd’s Brightest Stars trilogy continues with The Burning and The Infinite Light of Dust, coming soon.

©2022 Frayed Pages, Inc. (P)2022 Blackstone Publishing

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  • Deborah J.
  • 20-07-22

Too much self thinking

So much was about what she was thinking that half way through I just didn’t care.

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  • Morgan
  • 09-07-22

Can’t wait for the second book!!

I knew this book would be good because I have loved the After series. It’s a totally different take on a complicated love story. I was not expecting the book to end on this cliffhanger but it has me wanting the next installment!!

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  • B. Roscoe
  • 09-07-22

Wow! Masterfully Written ...

Kael & Karina’s Military Romance Is Complex. It Is About A Disaffected Soldier Returning Home From Afghanistan & A Former Army Brat Not Looking For Love. They Begin To Fall For One Another In Spite Of Themselves, & It Only Leads To Disaster. With A Love Like The Brightest Stars, It Is Destined To Burn Itself Out.


ABOUT THE BRIGHTEST STARS TRILOGY:

This book is the rewritten version of the self-published 2018 title The Brightest Stars. This expanded and relaunched version has over 30,000 new words.

I have not read the earlier version, so I cannot compare the two. Based on a note from the author included at the back of the book, and the events that have taken place since the original version was released, I suspect some of the additions include a few politically-toned comments. It might be an attempt to draw in a different set of readers. To be clear, there are no political affiliations mentioned here, just issues that have become the subject of political controversy. As such, the politics are implied, not explicit.

In general, I do not like getting fed politics in the fiction I choose to read. Politics are fueled by greed and power, so statements from all sides should never be taken at face value. It is a nasty business, and I like my fiction to be an escape, not a commercial for one side or the other. That said, I was able to stomach it here for the most part. It came later in the book when I was already hooked, and it only made a brief occasional appearance. I do hope that books two and three do not delve into political topics. I think of Kael’s calm and perceptive observations, and I suspect he would urge patience and understanding on both sides rather than painting one side or another as the villain.

This is book one in the Brightest Stars Trilogy. It is a bit confusing because it is called A Brightest Stars Novel and Stars Series Book 1.

The Brightest Stars Trilogy Includes:
1. The Falling
2. The Burning
3. The Infinite Light of Dust

For reference, the prior trilogy included:
1. The Brightest Stars
2. The Brightest Stars – Connected
3. The Brightest Stars – Beloved

IN THIS BOOK:

The prologue opens in an Atlanta-area coffee shop in September. Karina is about to see Kael for the first time since last winter. She has regrets about how things ended and is nervous about seeing him again. Chapter one takes a step back in time. It opens in the fall in the Fort Benning, Georgia area two years earlier.

Karina Fischer, twenty, loves her job as a licensed massage therapist. The mind-body connection and the wellness industry, in general, drew her to her profession. She particularly enjoys the satisfaction she gets from helping her clients, many of which are repeat customers. Her father is not thrilled with her chosen profession, but then again, he rarely approves of her choices. For Karina, her job has given her the ability to move out from under his roof and to buy a home of her own. It might be small and in need of repairs, but that it is all her own means the world to her. She has been on her own for a year now, proving to herself that she can stand on her own two feet.

Raised as an Army brat, Karina moved a lot in her youth. Her family moved from Texas three years ago, and then it all fell apart. Her parents’ marriage had never been perfect. Her father is a career military man. His word is the law. Her mother is more of a free spirit, and she learned to detest everything about the military. She finally left, leaving Karina and her twin brother Austin behind with their strict father. Not surprisingly, the twins are in agreement on their feelings about the military, which has shaped their childhood and contributed to their parents’ divorce. They made a pact, promising to never enlist.

Her mother’s abandonment certainly impacted Karina in a variety of ways. Her twin brother Austin is constantly getting into trouble, so much so that their father sent him away to stay with an uncle. Karina often finds herself pulled into Austin’s messes, helping him clean them up. She is the sensible twin. Nevertheless, her father has nothing but criticism for Karina, who happens to look much like her mother.

The sense of loss Karina feels in her mother’s absence is keen. She has no mother to turn to for even the most basic of advice. Her father replaced her mother almost immediately, and her new stepmother Estelle is the picture-perfect wife. Estelle tries hard, but it comes across as fake and so much of what might be well-meaning only serves to trigger Karina’s insecurities. Estelle’s perfection stands in stark contrast to the mess of Karina’s life.

Karina doesn’t normally spend much time on her appearance. Although satisfied with her looks, she knows she doesn’t compare favorably to so many other girls her age. She still has lingering insecurities from high school – about her weight and her imperfect complexion – but she doesn’t let it control her. Instead, it is her racing thoughts that control her. She has a tendency to get lost in her head. When she does speak, she has a tendency to ramble, to overshare. It is something she has been criticized for.

Although she has had a few boyfriends, none have been terribly serious. Josh was back in high school, but Brien was just last year. He was her only serious boyfriend, but in retrospect, their four months together lacked any real connection. That is a general problem, in fact. Karina struggles to connect with others. She is a worrier. She builds walls to protect herself and feels more comfortable in her own head. Since the divorce, denial has become an ingrained habit. Relationships are messy, and she is happy with her independence. Her mother said that love is dangerous, and her exit from Karina’s life proved that point. Karina cannot afford to open her heart to love again; she would never survive the inevitable loss.

Karina has one good friend, Elodie, with whom she works. Elodie is having her own difficulty fitting in with the other Army wives, and while her husband Phillip is deployed in Afghanistan, she is practically living with Karina. When Elodie brings home one of Phillip’s friends one day, Karina has her reservations, yet there is something about Kael’s presence that brings her a sense of comfort.

Mikael Martin, twenty, has just returned to Fort Benning from his second deployment to Afghanistan. He has both mental and physical reminders of the war, like so many of his fellow soldiers. Karina has empathy for him, and she decides to trust Elodie’s judgment with regard to Kael. The handsome soldier’s silence, however, is the first of many red flags. He seems more content to allow Karina to babble on than to share the smallest bit of personal information himself. Karina sees the imbalance in their blossoming friendship, but his power to put her at ease always wins. As their friendship grows, so does her attraction to the charming soldier.

Kael never misleads Karina about his intentions; they can be friends until he leaves. He is working on being discharged, then he plans to return home to his mother and sister near Atlanta, about two hours away. He is hot and cold with Karina. He disappears without explanation. But no matter how hard they both try to deny it, their connection with one another feels far too intimate for friendship. As the two explore their friendship and grow in their comfort with one another, Karina starts to realize that she is already falling hard. Knowing there is no future with Kael, she must decide how to accept their inevitable end. Kael and Karina face several challenges in their journey, which ends with a heartbreaking cliffhanger.

Their story continues in book two of the trilogy, The Burning. Note that the prologue here takes place two years into the future, and the story lasts roughly one month. It appears that book two is likely to fill in the gap – either partially or entirely.

Wow! Kael and Karina’s military romance is a complex story. It is about falling in love unintentionally. It is about trust in the absence of good reason. And it is about the walls that people build to protect themselves and the inevitable vulnerability that eventually weakens them. Kael and Karina’s story is riddled with contrast. It is both innocent and intimate. It is about both loyalty and betrayal. The brightest stars burn out, leaving darkness behind. Karina holds herself back from relationships, yet she cannot stop talking once she gets started. Kael is happy in his silence and patient to a fault, yet his occasional lies and disappearances point to another side to his character. This story delves into the aftermath of war and the price paid by those that fight it on behalf of our country. It dwells on the ugly side of the military – which is unfortunate. I would like to see more balance.

There are a handful of references to stars in this book that relate back to the title of the series, The Brightest Stars Trilogy. The references are more depressing than hopeful, which is in line with the tone of the story. It is noted that bright stars burn faster. Whether a reference to Kael or to their relationship, it might not matter since it will all mean the same thing to Karina, whose story this is. It does give her the excuse she needs to let go and embrace the beauty of what they have found together even knowing it will be soon extinguished.

A few issues merit mention. First, the timeline related to Karina’s mother’s departure from the family is vague and sometimes confusing. Additionally, Kael’s character is sometimes contradictory in a way that does not seem intentional.

Kael and Karina’s romance is about a disaffected soldier returning home from Afghanistan and a former Army brat not looking for love. They begin to fall for one another in spite of themselves, and it only leads to disaster. With a love like the brightest stars, it is destined to burn itself out. The story is masterfully written. The plot is complex. There are secrets and half-truths. Piecing it all together is impossible until it is revealed. The characters are carefully crafted and three-dimensional. The story is written in first person in Karina’s POV. I rate this book 4.5 stars.

As for the Audio: it is well-performed and almost entirely consistent with the book. I read and listen together often, as I did here, and there is a musical reference that is changed in the audio version, resulting in one sentence being removed and two being added. It had me rewinding several times because I kept getting lost.