Blog Tour and Giveaway: 9 Letters: Blake Austin

9 Letters
Blake Austin
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Expected February 24, 2016
Buy Amazon/Amazon UK (Also Kindle Unlimited)

Luke Cawley is a broken man. After his wife's tragic death, he lost everything that mattered in the world. Now, his life is filled with hard days, harder nights, and a steady stream of alcohol and the wrong kind of women. Nothing helps.

Until the letters arrive on Luke's doorstep.

Nine envelopes. Nine messages. Nine chances to find his way back.

Rae Goode is looking for the real thing. After fighting her way out of a string of bad relationships, she's ready for something different--something true.

She meets Luke while piecing her life together, and right away she can tell that he's different. Drawn together by fate and the desire to heal, Rae and Luke discover new ways to mend their broken hearts--one letter at a time.

Discover Blake Austin's debut novel of loss, redemption, and ever-enduring love.

One year after his wife Emily's death, Luke Cawley receives a package of nine letters from her--Nine instructions on how to move forward in small steps. This is Luke's journey as he is guided back to living after a terrible loss.

This was written in Luke's unfiltered point of view--country accent and all including the frequent use of "ain't" and double negatives. There were also some flashbacks and we were also able to read Emily's letters. Luke is angry, depressed, and lost. He is going through the motions, but making some poor choices and his life is crumbling around him. But the letters give him some purpose, open his eyes, and get him at least moving in the right direction. 

One of the people he meets along the way is Rae Goode. She is sweet, sassy, funny, and like a ray of sunshine. But she also has her own issues and demons that she is dealing with.

Luke has serious anger issues. He is still dealing with loss and guilt. He is floundering until he receives the letters. He makes some progress then experiences set backs. He needs to be able to come to terms with his past in order to begin to trust, open up, feel, and move on. But he is in limbo between the past and present and trying his best to navigate everything.

Rae is really interested in Luke and their connection, but she has trust issues and is not interested in repeating her past mistakes with men. So even though she wants to be supportive, understanding, and build something, she also needs reassurance that she is not making a mistake and will be less forgiving of a man with behaviors like her ex. They both have fears and insecurities that cause challenges. But do they care enough to take on each others' baggage and deal with their fears together or is it too much?

I struggled a bit with the voice at times and I was not sure if was the country type phrasing of both Luke and some of the women, if it was meant to be a regional thing, or if it was more the author's voice. Sometimes it was just different or seemed inconsistent.

This is a different kind of love story. It did focus on two romances actually and gave us Luke's feelings about both. I loved the connection between him and his wife Emily told in flashbacks and her letters. And I also liked him and Rae together. But this was really more Luke's journey towards self forgiveness, acceptance, faith, and redemption.

ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review.
Luke Cawley is wallowing in grief for his wife. One year after her death a mysterious package arrives with 9 letters. From Emily. As he reads her first letter, he realizes that she knew him far better than he knew himself, and embarks on a journey to find himself again. To live life again.

As he begins following the instructions in the letters, he meets Rae Goode. She is looking for a better man than she has found before, someone who won’t break her trust. But she sees something in Luke that has her thinking he could be different, if she can work through her own relationship roadblocks.

Somewhere around the quarter mark I felt like Luke’s voice changed. The contrast between his inner voice and his dialogue was noticeable. His inner voice was polished, used proper grammar and read smoothly, while directly following, his dialogue would be full of rougher phrasing and double negatives.

The pacing of the story was quick. The switch between flashbacks and present day kept the story moving forward while also giving the background to explain his reaction to his loss. There were times, after he began reading Emily’s notes, that his recovery pace felt rushed, but the feeling was definitely reduced as he made further progress and faced bigger challenges.

In the quiet moments of this book, I found the emotions creeping up subtly. The story would be moving along and all of the sudden a line would hit that had me choking up, my eyes burning. Other times I could feel those emotional points coming long before they actually hit.

The characters around Luke, from his co-workers at the bar, to his high school buddies, to the people he met along the way, all had a hand in helping him along his journey. In the beginning they may not have all known exactly what he was feeling, as he kept all but his anger pretty close to the vest, but they all cared about him and wanted to help, though they didn’t always know how. 

This was a hugely emotional story, and at times, felt like a very non-traditional romance. There are really 2 stories running parallel: Luke and Emily, and Luke after Emily. This man is hurting. Even as he begins his climb out of grief, his lows are huge and his highs are tempered by the fear of hitting another low. As the “after-Emily” journey progresses this is as much a story of a man working towards forgiveness and acceptance as it is a man falling in love again.

ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

I was about twenty minutes early for my shift, but I got up to the bar, grabbed a rag, started wiping it down, bussing some dishes.
"Damn, Luke," Jake said, watching me work. "You win the lotto or something? Royals win the pennant last night and I forgot to watch?"
"I'm just in a good mood, that's all," I said.
I thought about it a moment longer, decided I should tell him more. Impart some wisdom learned from my not-particularly-advanced years.
"When everything's dark for so damn long and your eyes get used to it," I said, "just a little glimmer of sunshine lights up the whole world."
He nodded, then grabbed a bus bin and headed back into the kitchen.
Warren though, Warren wasn't impressed. He was sitting by one of the daytime barflies, but he'd stopped talking and was just watching me. I was on thin ice, and I knew it. I couldn’t afford to lose my job. A heartbroken, drunk, angry widower is probably as unemployable as the average ex-con.
I came on at the end of the day shift. Warren liked tending bar during the day, because it meant just shooting the shit with the regulars. That day I had a smile for every customer, sparse words of wisdom like day drunks want to hear. Tending bar wasn't my dream. But to hell with letting that make me lazy. I kept the place clean, I poured drinks like I cared.
I was getting into the swing of it when happy hour kicked in and a few more people filtered through the door. Couple of middle-aged bikers, a retired couple that parked their RV out front. 
The door swung open again, letting in a little bit of that early-evening cold, and I glanced up to see a crowd of three women, with two men. One of the women was a reddish blonde, radiant. Sort of stole the light out of the room. It was Rae. Our eyes met and her smile gave the room back its light.
She'd been in jeans at the shelter, but she was in a blue dress now and she looked damn fine in either. Took my mind right off Maggie, faster than I thought it would be possible. I met her eyes, and she gave out a little gasp and giggle. I was probably smiling in surprise myself.
The crowd came over to the bar. I'd thought the other four were two couples, but I realized pretty quick that the black girl with the afro was dating the quiet white guy in a beard and glasses and tattoos, and that the other guy was trying to impress Rae. He had a John Deere hat, but his clothes were way too clean for me to buy it that he worked on a farm. I hated him, right off. I probably would have hated him if he was the best guy in the world, though. The other girl, she was tall, latina, and for some indiscernible reason was interested in the poser farmer.
Most of the time, I'm awful at reading people. But for some reason, at work I can tell you everything about everyone who walks in the door. About who's into who, about who had a bad day at work. Who wants to get drunk and miserable, who wants to get drunk and happy, who wants to get drunk and start trouble. Maybe it's some magic of the job, maybe it's just how people carry themselves at a bar. Helps with tips, that's for certain. You wingman right, and the money flows in.
Warren, he likes to upsell them drinks when he's doing that. Get them excited about the top shelf. Not me.
"Hey, Rae," I said.
"Luke," she said.
John Deere looked at me like I was the scum of the earth. And maybe I was, but if I was the scum then he was... I don't know, something worse than scum. Wannabe scum.
She introduced me to her friends. Nicole had the afro, her boyfriend was Eric. The girl with bad taste was Irina, and John Deere had some name but honestly it went in one ear and out the other. He was John Deere to me. Yeah, maybe I'm an asshole.
"So, how do you know this guy?" Deere asked, tossing me a look that said I clearly wasn’t good enough to be friend with someone like Rae.
"Oh, he came in just the other day. Adopted the sweetest dog, a bloodhound." She turned to me, flashing that dimple high on her cheek. "How is he? You guys call a truce yet?"
"King's great," I said. "I mean, he's probably at home right now, eating everything I've ever owned, but I figure I was due for a purge anyway, right?"
It was a lame attempt at humor, but Rae laughed.
"What can I get you all? Friend of Rae's is a friend of mine." 

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Blake Austin is a guitar playing father of one, who lives in Los Angeles. He's written music for as long as he can remember and was inspired to add book writing to his repertoire. 9 Letters is his debut novel.
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