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Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW:  The First Boy I Loved by Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW: The First Boy I Loved by Cheryl Reavis

first-boy

Vietnam took her first love away from her. Now it may take her next love, too.

After her husband dies, Gillian Warner realizes how many sorrows she carries inside her, including unresolved grief over her first love, who died in Vietnam decades earlier. Haunted by his death in combat and a tangled web of guilty secrets, she books a guided trip to the battle site. The tours are led by cynical Vietnam War vet A.J. Donegan, who makes his living taking naïve Americans on what he calls Guilt Trips, Inc. If they’re looking for peace of mind, they can forget it. A prickly attraction sparks between Gillian and Donegan, with neither able to let go of the past without the other’s provocative challenge. In a test of willpower and desire, they’ll have to share much more than a journey to a place and a memory; they’ll have to travel deep inside the walls they’ve built around their hearts.

Dear Ms. Reavis,

I periodically read your website to check what books you’ve got coming out and remember reading about this one years ago. Then came lots of waiting. Many other books were released but not this one. So I waited some more and had almost given up on ever getting my hands on it when I saw it listed at netgalley. Yes, finally! – cue excited squees.

I have a soft spot for older couples finding love, especially if they’ve loved and lost before. Donegan and Gilly both qualify for that description. However since they also both came of age during the Vietnam War (or the American War as the Vietnamese know it) both also have war wounds and must hang on to each other as they veer and stagger towards healing and peace.

I laughed at the way these two interact. They are honest past superficial, time wasting manners with each other. Neither pussy foots around with bullshitting but cuts to the chase. Gilly reminds me of many no-nonsense nurses I know – they have heart, care deeply and are dedicated to their patients but they see right through any subterfuge and will call you on it in an instant. Donegan is like many veterans I have met – blunt and direct. They compliment each other despite their different professions.

While I’m not quite of this age I am close enough to remember a lot of it. The nightly news with Walter Cronkite giving the days totals of dead and wounded, the protests, the songs. The war – by whatever name – still haunts and scars people from both nations and will for their lifetimes. The vets have their stories they won’t tell and the sisterhood of grieving women still mourn, as women have always done when men go to war. The scene of the Vietnamese village women and Gillian letting the dam burst on their emotions was moving and powerful.

I enjoyed seeing Saigon and Vietnam as they are and were with the centuries side by side and overlapping. Donegan shows Gilly the real Saigon and the real Vietnam in all its beauty and ugliness. The proof of the ugliness is in what haunts him the most and the secret he finally reveals to Gilly. The beauty – it’s all around them and in the people they meet and share memories, grief and time with.

The book is filled with wonderful characters – some of whom are mere pencil sketches but what lifelike drawings they are. Madame An who made her French lover learn Vietnamese and now runs a 5 star restaurant and caters Donegan’s coffee. Dr. Nguyen who cares for orphans but still dislikes Americans because the American War killed her father, Mrs. Tran who survived the war and found and new husband and a new life on her boat, the women of Binh Duong who live their pain and the results of Agent Orange.

It’s painful. It’s funny. It’s a trip back in time and a time for healing or at least a start at it. There are things in their pasts which might not ever be resolved but part of life is accepting what can’t be changed and dealing with the grief and pain. The ending is more than HFN but not quite a HEA. Donegan and Gilly have both gone through some catharsis and are ready to commit to working out their relationship but I’m glad you didn’t force a rainbows and happy bunnies ending.

One thing I love about your books is that I feel what the characters are feeling and not because I’m told those are their emotions. Instead their actions and manner of speaking shows me and gets me to believe in their stories in a visceral way. I connect with them just as I did with Gilly and Donegan. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  An Unexpected Wife by Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW: An Unexpected Wife by Cheryl Reavis

“Her Deepest Secret

Giving up her out-of-wedlock son was the only right choice. Still, Kate Woodward aches that she isn’t part of his life. She can’t heal herself, but she can help former Confederate soldier Robert Markham rebuild his war-shattered life. But helping Robert is drawing them irresistibly close–even as Kate fears she can never be the one he deserves….

Battlefield loss and guilt rekindled Robert’s faith and brought him home to Salisbury. And Kate’s past only makes him more determined to show this steadfast, caring woman that she deserves happiness. Now, with her secrets revealed and her child in danger, Robert has only one chance to win her trust–and embark on the sweetest of new beginnings….”

Dear Ms. Reavis,

An-Unexpected-WifeEver since I read “The Prisoner” and “The Bride Fair,” I’ve been waiting for Kate Woodard to get her HEA. It’s so good to see these characters again. All are recognizable but all show signs of recognizable growth: Maria and Max as a family, the townspeople in regard to the Reconstruction, Kate in her maturity as the spinster of the family and Robert in coming home and atoning for the pain he caused. I will say that your choice of hero sparked a lot of questions in my mind as to how you’d pull off his story. I also wondered why the blurb said Rob’s hometown is Atlanta. Note that I’ve fixed that in my version of the description. ;)

Perhaps I just need to read more contemporary inspies but most of them haven’t worked as well for me. Since this is – obviously – a historical the inclusion of faith as a major factor in the lives of the characters feels more “dyed in the wool” for me. It’s personal growth in faith and not REPENT YOU SINNER! It seems to flow naturally from their lives and circumstances and not be there to try and save me, the reader. I appreciate this.

Kate and Robert grow more over the course of the book. Kate in her knowledge – she can lay a fire now – and in the realization of how her son’s life will proceed best. Robert had to make amends to his family and the people who loved and mourned him or who think he hurt them and their loved ones. I like that Kate doesn’t seek forgiveness for her sin – she feels she might have sinned but her son isn’t a sin – but rather peace and acceptance of the things she can’t change. She’s endured the situation and lived weighted down under family expectations for so long but now she can find the freedom of telling someone else about her struggle, of sharing the burden with someone who is there only for her.

Robert sank under the weight of his own feelings of guilt and remorse following the death of his younger brother at Gettysburg. When faced with the unbearable pain of his physical and mental wounds, he retreated away from those he felt he had let down. Initially I thought I wanted to see more of Robert’s POV especially his reunion with several people – among whom is the sister who has mourned him as dead for 7 years and the mother of the woman he loved who blames him for what her daughter became. And then that woman herself. I mean, Rob left a trail of grief in his wake and we see almost none of what must have been some impressive Southern “giving him what for” meetings.

Then upon rereading parts of the story I came to realize that what must have gone on during these meetings is displayed and told by Rob during his sermon for the town. Instead of slinking around and only abasing himself and allowing himself to be confronted in private by those he did wrong, he goes a step further and lays himself bare before everyone. Since this is an inspie, using a church sermon as a way to tell people how he thought he’d failed his promises, how low he’d sunk during those lost years and how he found his way back to religion and afterwards home is perfect.

Are Rob and Kate right for each other? Yes, I believe so. They compliment each other and have found The One who will accept their imperfections as human beings while still supporting them. Neither is trying to save the other with religion yet they both find their way back to it over the course of the story. Rob trusts plain speaking Kate to tell him what he needs to know after so long away from NC and Kate discovers a man to whom she can reveal her past, who doesn’t load her down with how he thinks she should act or behave.

Meeting up again with the various townspeople, Occupational Army and Woodard household members was a joy. Seeing how the love between Max and Maria has deepened, how well Jake and Joe are, how ever efficient Sergeant Major Perkins remains and how much Mrs. Kinnard still strikes fear into the Union Army brought back old times and books. I also enjoyed spending time with Mrs. Justice and Mrs. Russell and a few new characters.

The wait to return to Reconstruction Salisbury and for Kate to find her someone was long but worth it. The choice of Rob, complete with all his issues, was inspired. Making the book an inspirational is a good fit with what Kate and Rob have endured and triumphed over. Dare I hope more books will be set in this world? B

~Jayne

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