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This contemporary novel follows five people all linked by the chilling events of one day in the small town of Broken Branch, Iowa, when a gunman enters an elementary school. Five narrators who are all linked by the events tell us about the day through their eyes, each giving a different perspective, and we find out a little about each of their backgrounds too, which allows us to learn about them, and relate this to how they are behaving now, on this day. As the snow falls, the rest of the town can only sit and wait.

Police officer Meg Barrett, farmer Will Thwaite, his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Augie Baker, and Evelyn Oliver, the teacher trapped in her classroom with her pupils and the gunman, recount what is happening around them, and then the final narrator is Holly, who is mother to Augie and her younger brother P. J., and who is in hospital across the country recovering from the effects of a terrible accidental fire.

This is an emotional, captivating story of everyday lives and relationships interrupted by one terrifying moment. The tension builds as the story progresses. The author conveys the worries of those waiting to hear any news from the school. I found myself thinking about who the gunman could be, and what his motivation was. There is suspicion and speculation as to his identity by those closely involved. Through what we slowly learn about these characters' pasts, the author introduces several possible candidates who could be the gunman. Anxious parents and friends wait, desperate for news, but little is forthcoming. For policewoman Meg, this is frustrating: 'I feel at loose ends; the little information I have is fragmented and disjointed, doesn't make sense.' The reader is kept on edge for most of the novel as to how the events will conclude.

The novel is fast-paced, the narrative voice shifts regularly between the five characters, and the sections are all fairly short, until at one point we have as little as a paragraph or two from one character, then we skip straight to another. This occurs as the story is at its most uncertain moment, and adds to the tension for the reader.

The main characters are all convincing and well-drawn, each with their own individual concerns already playing on their minds, these anxieties then being compounded by the shocking events of this day. It's fascinating to see how each character reacts in this awful situation. I kept wondering what would happen next, and I was thinking about the story even when I'd put the book down.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the second of Heather Gudenkauf's books that I've read, and it is excellent. Told from the point of view of various characters, it tells the story of a lock-down in an American school due to the presence of a gunman on the school site. As readers we are privy to what is going on both inside and outside the school, and Heather Gudenkauf generates the obvious tension of such a situation extremely well. She keeps the reader guessing until the end about the identity and motivation of the gunman, although the clues are there throughout for those sharp enough to spot them, along with a few red herrings as well. I found this a gripping read, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I found it hard to put down. If you like Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain, you will find this a frightening but excellent read. Recommended!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 June 2014
The pace and tension from the opening pages of this book are relentless. The multiple viewpoint narrative keeps the pace and plotting tight and take the reader right into the heart of each character and as the story and secrets unfold.

It's nearly Spring Break time, the last day of school, when a Code Red Lockdown message comes over the tannoy and teachers are told to go to the safe place. A lone gunman has entered the school. Who is he and why is he there?

There's a very strong sense of place and time. It's a small town, with a local police force prepared in theory for the scenario, but faced with the challenge of dealing with it in practice. There are procedures to follow. But backup can't get through because the weather has closed in. There's an almost palpable sense of isolation and introspection as the backstory around each if the central characters is revealed. Establishing the identity of the gunman is critical; the possibilities stack up as the narrative sweeps from one person to another.

Simple writing, but spot on. As a British reader, I was transported to a different world. Very plausible and totally gripping. I loved it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 April 2013
In a small town in Iowa, a gunman walks into a school during a snowstorm. He sets himself up in a classroom and calmly takes control. Outside, the policeforce mobilise, but due to the poor weather their numbers are small and extra reinforcements are not available. Anxious parents also gather. Inside the school, 12 year old Augie worries about her younger brother, trapped in the gunman's classroom. No one knows who the gunman is or what he wants.

The book unfolds over the course of a single day and chapters move between the perspective of five characters: Augie, her mother Holly (in hospital in Arizona), her grandfather Will, Mrs Oliver (a teacher inside the school) and Meg, one of the policemen. The chapters are short - usually a few pages, sometimes only as a paragraph or two.

I read most of the book in one setting so I suppose that suggests I loved it, but the truth is that I found it pretty slow going. There is not a lot of action and not a lot of suspense (though it does ramp up somewhat towards the end). There are a lot of back stories that have only negligible - if any - connection to the main plot. Most of it is treading water as the children wait for something to happen and the police on the outside try to identify the gunman. I know that there are many rapturous reviews out there but honestly, I didn't feel it. Heather Gudenkauf is compared to Jodi Picoult, but having recently read The Storyteller, I didn't feel that this book was nearly as complex or absorbing. It's okay, but that's all.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was really pleased to get an advance copy of One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf which will be published by MIRA in June 2012. I read her first novel The Weight of Silence about 18 months ago and really enjoyed it, so was looking forward to One Breath Away.

The story takes place over just a few hours, in a small American town called Broken Branch and is told by the main characters involved. A man has entered Broken Branch School and he has a gun, he has taken a class of kids hostage - nobody knows who he is or what he wants.
Using individual character's voices and stories to narrate is a very clever way of letting the reader know as much as possible about each of them whilst still concentrating on the main event of the plot. The chapters are, on the whole, short and to the point which I found really engaging, and made me want to carry on reading. Just as the reader discovers something about one character the narrative turns to another, leaving you wanting to know more and looking forward to the next instalment.

I enjoyed this book very much, it's a quick read, yet very compelling. Each character voice was very lifelike, all had their issues and their flaws, yet all of them were likeable. It's more than just a 'school shooting' story though, there are many unresolved issues floating about and back stories that explain why each character reacts in the way that they do.

The tension levels rise towards the end, as the gunman's identity and reasoning are unveiled, and there was no way I even came close to guessing who it was!
A great novel, I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from Heather Gudenkauf.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 June 2014
Oh my - this is definitely a "hold your breath" book. So many things worked together to create the ambience of the story. The stomach churning dread and paralysing fear of knowing those you love are in a perilous situation and there is nothing you can do about it, the wishing that the police would get on and DO something, even though deep down, logic tells you that they can't go in all guns blazing, that they must play a waiting game is well laid out. That there is so much else going on in the story at the same time adds to the overall effect - a mother desperately injured but praying that her children will come out of this situation in one piece, the reader can feel her frustration that she cannot get out of her hospital bed and go to her children, all compounded by the mind numbing effects of the pain medication which she needs. Even the weather adds to the atmosphere of the book, bleak and dense, obstructing free movement - just as the perpetrator is doing with his hostages. We are with the police in their search for the identity of the man in the school, but every time they think they have an answer, they are confounded. One suspect is dead and another has fallen victim to the weather. The thick snow obscures the vision of those looking on as a potential tragedy unfolds in front of them, and all the layers of the story serve to make the identification of the perpetrator and a way of resolving the situation much more difficult.
I felt so much for the teacher, desperately seeking ways of keeping her class safe from what is unleashed upon them and so sad that the school which should have been a place of safety and security for them will never be that again. Her gritty determination in this is well told but could it cost her her life?

When the end came, I was surprised, but didn't feel cheated. I felt that the author had put us off the scent very well, without lying to us in anyway. This was a terrifically well told tale, of events which, it now seems, could sadly happen anywhere. Whilst I couldn't, in all honesty, say that it was a wrench to put this book down, I did want to keep on reading it and was watching the progress marker at the bottom of the page to see how close I was to a resolution because I wanted the situation to end well for all those at risk and those who were waiting for news.
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on 16 July 2012
BRILLIANT - I can't praise this author highly enough, in just 3 novels she has progressed from good to great to sensational.

In this her latest novel she creates a story around just one snowy day in Iowa, where a gunman has entered the schoolhouse and is holding a class of pupils and their teacher hostage for reasons unknown to them and to us. The whole school is in lockdown and as events unfold and tension mounts we are drawn into the lives of every person whom this dreadful happening touches. Heather has taken an unimaginably appalling situation and handled it sensitively and with compassion, yet what emerges is a piquant peek into the lives of some real and diverse characters, a real human interest tale.

The story is skilfully woven like a length of the finest fabric - the hostage situation is the warp whilst the lives of the characters like the weft are drawn in and out of the material cleverly and subtly so all the components become a whole.

We meet PJ and his sister Augie, their lives already touched with more tragedy than 2 youngsters
should have to cope with, their Mum Holly separated from her husband, lies many miles away in hospital battling to recover from injuries she sustained in a fire. (The description of how easily an everyday moment turned to tragedy made my blood literally run cold)

Her almost estranged parents have stepped in to care for her children and her father Will a brusque cattle farmer tries his best to protect his only daughter whilst unknown to her both her children are deeply involved in the hostage situation.

Local police officer Meg tries her hardest to be professional and control the situation despite her own fears and lack of experience, back up promised yet thwarted by the increasingly bad weather.

Inside the building elderly teacher Mrs Oliver becomes an unlikely hero and despite being in the wrong place at very much the wrong time her bravery is real and the thoughts running through her mind provide a few touches of real humour in a bleak situation.

Heather Gudenkauf is rapidly becoming a real rival to the likes of Diane Chamberlain and Jodi Picoult.
Even though this story is written in the voices of many different characters, she nimbly skips from one voice to another without once breaking the liquid flow of the story. Almost every chapter leaves the reader in a cliff hanger situation thinking "Nooooo you can't leave me here" it's a cinch to follow, a superbly crafted, deeply moving page turner that I loved every word of from start to finish.
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VINE VOICEon 22 March 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is by far the best of Heather Gudenkauf's works so far. I literally did not want to put it down for a second once I had started to read it. A tale that is scarily realistic, One Breath Away is the story of a gunman holding a class of children hostage.

The story is told from five different perspectives, bringing each of the individual's actions into an almost three-dimensional viewpoint as we see their inner feelings and the feelings others have towards them. This is a lovely way to keep a fast-moving novel as fresh and interesting as possible. We hear from an elderly grandfather, trying to not make the same mistakes with his grandaughter as he did with his daughter. Then there is his tragically injured daughter, who had hoped to never revisit her small-town upbringing. Her teenage daughter is making it hard to love her, but she is carrying guilt and responsibilities beyond her tender years. These three characters alone would make for a compelling read, but two more key people capture the drama as it unfolds. The first of these is a local policewomen, whose daughter attends the school in question. The second is a soon-to-be retired teacher, who doesn't want her students to look back on her final moments as the first time she didn't put their needs before her own...she also doesn't want to leave her husband a widower.

Heather Gudenkauf captures the drama perfectly; the heightened sense of responsibilty of some, and the 'flight' instinct of others. She leads the reader along some interesting paths whilst trying to keep you guessing until the last as to the identity of the gunman. During it all you get to feel the longing that arises in people who know they have unfinished moments in this world, those words you should have said to your child, your mother, your husband. These desperate reasons to not just give in, to continually search for a way to escape this hell, really make this novel a 5 star piece of writing.

I highly recommend this novel. It is fast-paced, gripping, and emotional to the very end.
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"One Breath Away" is an excellent novel with a storyline that is very of the times we are living in, especially in America. It reads more like a memoir than fiction.

The book is written from the perspective of Holly, mother of 2 of the hostage children; Augie (Augustine) daughter of Holly, trapped in the school and sister to P.J. who is 1 of the hostages; Will, father to Holly and Grandfather to Augie and PJ; Meg, a local Police Officer and Mrs Oliver, the class teacher who's class it is that has been taken hostage.

This nightmare situation is written in alternative chapters by the above characters. The reader is led into their lives and their problems and all the time trying to work out who is the gunman, why are the chldren all taken as hostages, what is the motive and how will the situation be resolved? What started off as a normal school day turns into a nightmare. How will it end?

I cannot tell you details of the story because it will take the edge off your enjoyment of the book. It is vell constructed, it is moving, it is gripping, memorable and tense, it is a thriller - an absolute page-turner.

Enjoy, you will not be disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
After enjoying 'The Weight of Silence' and 'These Things Hidden,' I was keen to read the latest book from Heather Gudenkauf.

In rural Broken Branch, Iowa, a man has entered the only school in town and he has a gun. The story is told through multiple-narrators as the horrifying day of events unfolds. Holly is recovering in hospital after suffering terrible burns in a housefire; her thirteen-year-old daughter Augie is now living with her grandparents in Broken Branch and is fiercely protective of her little brother P.J.; Mrs. Oliver is nearing retirement and is P.J.'s third grade teacher, Will is Holly's father and Augie & P.J.'s grandfather, and Meg is a local policewoman, who also has a daughter in the third grade. As the stories are interwoven many questions arise: who is the mysterious gunman, what is his motive, and how far will he go?

Each character is well painted and the story is engrossing, the author really makes the reader feel for all the families of the children held hostage, until its satisfying conclusion. Gudenkauf's novels get better with each new release so if you enjoyed either of her previous books or are a fan of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, then order 'One Breath Away,' now.
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