This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Genres: Contemporary Romance, New Adult Romance
Published by Audible Studios
Released on October 4, 2016
Length: 11 hours 48 minutes
Sweet Soul is the final Sweet Home and Carillo Boys story. Levi was the youngest, most tender-hearted, and sweetest of the brothers. As he grew up threw the course of the series, my anticipation grew to finally get his story and meet the girl who would love Levi. And in true Tillie Cole style, Sweet Soul is not easy nor is it light. The ugly subjects of bullying and guilt rear their heads needing to be conquered.
As I just noted, Sweet Soul is the finale in a series. It could be read standalone in a pinch, but works best in order as it is built from the earlier stories.
Levi Carillo is in a better place, physically, since his older brother Austin made it to the pros with his football talent and married his college sweetheart, Lexi Hart. Levi has lived with Austin and Lexi since his mama died and now attends University of Washington on his own football scholarship and pursues is studies and football while shyly avoiding the limelight and the very interested girls who want the cute, built popular football star. But behind his shy, quiet, studious face is a young man drowning with grief and loneliness. His family care deeply, but don’t know how to get through and help him heal. Only just when Levi is ready to break, he finds a thief and homeless girl in a cold, dank alley and he finds that through caring for someone else, his lost soul begins to mend.
Elsie Hall has grown up on the streets and is now sick and frightened. Her latest efforts to steal wallets has turned up no cash so no money for her hunger. The fever and racking cough are taking her even as the cold Seattle rain seeps through her ragged coverings, but through the haze of illness, she recognizes the handsome and kind face of the boy she stole from. He gives her coffee, blankets, and warm hoodie and then he brings her home to his family and they care for her. Levi doesn’t care that she is partially deaf nor that her voice is distorted. He thinks she is beautiful and strong- that her voice is lovely. But too many years of cruel and cutting remarks, her mother’s tragic past, and her own hard life have left a mark to balance out Levi’s kindness. Elsie is growing to love this sweet soul and she wants to give back what he freely gave to her, but sees no future for a boy destined for pro football and a wonderful life and a girl from the streets.
Alright, so yes, let’s get it over with first, I bawled my eyes out throughout this book. Levi’s sadness over his mama’s death and abandonment issues would have teared me up, but it was Elsie’s horrific past and even what she goes through in the present that took me out at the knees. There is cruel and then there is viciously cruel and that is what Elsie experiences as a bullied kid who was barely surviving as a child with hearing disabilities, being shoved into the foster system with the loss of her mom, never being able to say good-bye before her mom dies, and then to be the target of a vicious bullying campaign that pushes her to the point of taking her own life to escape the pain and misery. My chest tightens just at the thought of how vicious it was because sadly, this goes on in real life.
Levi and Elsie are beautiful together and so right for each other. They connect over shared grief and loss and growing up poor. But then Levi does it one better when he sees past the dirty, scrounging girl to someone in need. Elsie stole what was most precious to Levi and he got past that to help her in a dark hour of her life. He goes on looking past her disabilities to her as a person. The dates he took this girl on go well beyond heart-stopping romantic and then when these two shy virgins come together, it was a heartwarming and sweet passion.
Each of these books including Sweet Soul, surround the new romantic pair with the family and friends who have been together all along. I loved the Rome and Molly, Austin and Lexi, and Axel and Ally are in several scenes and their ongoing stories are told. Levi’s story tends to be more insular than the earlier books because he is so shy and private. He plays as a top college football player and is a good scholar, but there isn’t much interaction with the college scene. There is pressure for him to conform and fit in, but he quietly resists because he knows where he is comfortable and won’t do the party scene or casual with girls. He’s mature beyond his years just like Elsie because of his past.
I experienced this story through audio narration. This was my first one with dual narration. I liked having Thomas Fawley narrate Levi’s chapters and Cassandra Morris narrate Elsie’s. I thought they each nailed their points of view, the writing and tone, and the pacing of the story. Accents, particularly the Italian or Molly’s British, were a bit of a struggle as were opposite gender voices at times, but both did a bang up job at telling the story and making the reader see it in the mind and feel it hit the emotions.
I have a concern with the narration though it is not an issue specific to this pair of narrators. Each book in this series had a different narrator and one thing that is difficult is adjusting to a new voice each time. I get why and think it neat as a concept to change the narrators with the change in the main players, but in reality, it was hard on the listener. This is a series with a core group of characters that were introduced to the reader in book one and carried through to book five. Even if they took turns being the main characters getting their love stories, this core group was very present so changing narrators each book became problematic for me as each narrator-doing a fantastic job at their craft- had a different take on these characters. Let’s take Ally, for instance. Ally has two distinct accents- her Alabama and her Spanish accents- and a distinct personality. Each narrator interpreted her so differently that it was a shock with each new book. And multiple that by all the cast of characters (Molly’s Brit accent, the Carillo brothers’ Italian and all their southern) and it was distracting at the least. I was able to enjoy and appreciate what each new narrator brought to the table, but it would probably have been better if one/ or a dual narration team stayed consistent through the whole series.
But, all in all, this was a fantastic story alone and as part of a solid series. I think it was one of the best New Adult Contemporary Romance series that I’ve read. Each book took the couples into the future- near and distant which is nice to see since I’m always curious about that. I heartily recommend these, but also advice that the reader keep the tissue box close at hand.
My thanks to Audible.com for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #360 NA