Sweet Hope follows a deeply emotional and beautiful love story. I both wanted it and dreaded it at the same time. Would it stand strong behind Sweet Fall and would it do justice to the promise that has been dark, dangerous, and tortured Axel Carillo? I wasn’t too far along before I could breathe a sigh of relief that yes, Sweet Hope was going to fulfill both expectations. This one gutted me at times, but it was another soaring and beautiful story.
Sweet Hope is the third of the Sweet Home series and definitely needs to be read in order behind the others. Oh, a reader might get by without the others, but the impact and references back to the past and the cast of characters won’t be as stunning nor will it resonate deeply like it would for someone who has known these characters since the beginning.
The story opens about five years from the end of Sweet Fall. Ally Prince is out of college and already a successful art exhibit museum curator. Now she has the chance to showcase her favorite sculptor, Elpy’s work. He’s a recluse and his mentor set up for her to arrange his first show at the University of Washington’s art museum. Ally is geeked that it’s in Seattle so she can be with her best friend Molly and her husband, Ally’s Cousin Rome Prince along with her other friends, Austin, Lexi, and Levi Carillo who are also there. Ally is thrilled that all her college friends have found romance and happiness, but she is also envious and wants her own special man and a shared love. Finally meeting the tortured, dark, and beautiful Elpy who is everything she dreamed of makes her think her opportunity has come.
Axel Carillo, the oldest brother and the blackest of black sheep, has finally come to see his brothers. He’s out of prison, out of the gang, and ready to start anew. He knows that what he has done is unforgiveable and he’ll never be able to restore what he wronged, but he is so very tired and wants to come home. His art is now going to be shown to the world under the name Elpy, but reuniting with his brothers is what he really dreams about. Arriving in Seattle, he is welcomed with cautious, but open arms by Austin. However, Levi repudiates him and can’t stand the sight of him. In fact, all the people who know him other than Austin would rather see the back of him. He doesn’t know if he can handle this, but the determined and sweet Ally helps him hold it together and hold off the darkness that threatens to swallow him.
This book was a long road to redemption for Axel. Ally is there and she is a strong piece in this story, but it is obvious that this is all Axel. From the first book, the reader can see that the hardened gang member who sells drugs, kills his rivals, and threatens the life of those who would hurt the gang is also so much more. I saw Axel clearly and knew that underneath every scar and action that caused a bit more of his soul to chip away was a guy who loved his family so much that he would walk through fire for them and did. Unfortunately, nobody in his family can see that because he shows a hard, cruel face to the world. This was the book where it got pretty bleak and dark before it got better. My heart broke for this man who had fought so many battles and internal demons and he just wanted to be wanted and find a home.
At first, I wasn’t sure this was a good romantic match. Ally has perky cheerleader going on so that I struggled to believe her age and she kept pushing at Axel like he owed her the answers about his private life and motives. Still not really keen on that early part of things even though I can see where it was necessary for him to get it all out- lance the wound and let the infection out.
And I cringed through much of the early story because they were both using other names and didn’t know who each other was. Axel as Elpy was open about who and what he was- how ugly and dark his past, but Ally as Arianna could only get all swoony over this bad boy sculptor she had a crush on and couldn’t see that he wasn’t putting on this broody act, but really was the tortured soul he claimed to be.
But then, there was a seismic shift when names came out and truth started flowing. That’s when the power of this story happened. The love story didn’t even begin for me until that point and then I was into it completely.
The author didn’t resolve matters into easy cheesy. No, Axel had to face the toughest nightmares when everyone rejected him. Each time, he thought he caught a break, he was knocked back again. I love all the characters in the surrounding cast, but I was ready to slap all of them for the pain they unwittingly caused. But that part where the really dangerous part of his past caught up left me breathless. The author had me right there gripped and riveted.
I experienced this book in the audio edition and this was my introduction to Tessa Ellory’s narration. Overall, I liked her work on the story. I liked what she did with everyone’s voice save Ally’s. And here’s the thing, I’m not sure if it’s the Ally of this story rather than her voice rendition- that perky cheerleader thing that I mentioned earlier, but I am sure that this mild dislike is more on me than anything. She nailed mood, timing, and tone well.
In summary, this was abso-fab and another emotional hardhitter in this series. This one crossed over into contemporary adult rather than the new adult from the earlier stories so I guess that the series is for people who enjoy both NA and adult in a high angst and passionate contemporary romance.
My thanks to Audible.com for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.
Challenges Met (2016):
Romance Roundabout #348 CR