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REVIEW:  Wingspan by Karis Walsh

REVIEW: Wingspan by Karis Walsh

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When architect Kendall Pearson finds an injured osprey on her property, she expects to simply drop it off at a local wild bird rehabilitation center and be done with it. Quick and painless, like every other relationship she has. But wildlife biologist Bailey Chase has other plans for Ken. First, as surgical assistant, and second, as the designer for her new raptor sanctuary.

Bailey protects her privacy with the vigilance of a hawk, hiding in her rescue center where she has complete control over her life and her work. Isolated on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, she’s surrounded by natural beauty and plenty of solitude. Until sexy Ken Pearson walks in with a wounded bird and Bailey finds her life has been invaded by more than just an extra beak to feed.

Sometimes pain is invisible, and only love can soar over protective barriers and heal a wounded heart.

Dear Ms. Walsh,

I’ve mentioned in several of my past book reviews that I enjoy reading about characters with different hobbies, jobs, or careers. Since I turn into a big, old softie when I read about wild animal rehab efforts, I immediately requested a copy of your book when I saw it on Netgalley.

Kendall – known throughout the book as Ken – and Bailey are each wounded souls who have closed themselves off from the world. They are so separated from others it’s almost as if they’re surrounded by a force field, a brick wall and a moat.

Ken has submerged herself into looking like everyone else, acting like everyone else and seeking out girlfriends and lovers who fit the profile of whom an upwardly mobile, young professional lesbian should be seen with. Never mind if she feels stifled – the order of the day is Thou Shalt Not Stand Out. Yet every once in a while her actual personality insists on rearing its head as when she can’t resist the vintage Vette or the lovely piece of undeveloped property way out in the country.

Bailey has known since childhood that the world views her as an oddball. Her parents volatile marriage drove her into the woods around their home where she discovered a kinship with birds that she finally turned into her life’s vocation after graduation from Vet School. The world is welcome to bring her injured birds but after that she prefers that it go the hell away and leave her to do what she loves and does better than most.

The way these two are brought together is both realistic as well as an organic utilization of their professions. Ken finds an injured osprey on her property and Bailey is the closest as well as best rehabber around. Bailey has reluctantly accepted funding from the WSU Vet School but that also entails a new annex being built on her land to allow for students as well as interns being sent to work with her. When architect Ken gets assigned to design the new flight cages and building, the two are thrown together.

Ken’s and Bailey’s solo and joint journeys back from their strict isolation is fairly obviously laid out and followed through. Though it felt real and was handled well, there were almost no surprises along the way. Point B followed point A which lead to point C even as I guessed what would happen when the story reached section D. But that’s not to say the story is boring or badly written as I enjoyed reading about the struggles behind successfully helping injured birds – but I’ll pass on feeding an owlet mouse bits no matter how cute he might look – and the bursts of genius behind inspired buildings which are more than a box.

Bailey and Ken are central to the self change of the other – and I do like that each woman reached her own decision to begin to alter her life and accept love into it rather than being driven to it. Bailey is a bit more open to it but there were times when I wanted to shake Ken out of her martyrdom. It was also a bit too easy that one or two major confrontation was all that stood between these two finally coming to grips with their years long issues. I did enjoy the book but I just wish the storyline wasn’t quite so easy to see coming. C+/B-

~Jayne

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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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