Author: Tillie Cole
Series: Sweet Home #4
Release date: December 15, 2015
(Sub)genres: Contemporary Romance
Buy: Amazon US
One shy lost soul.
One silent lonely heart.
One love to save them both.
Life has never been easy for twenty-year-old Levi Carillo. The youngest of the Carillo boys, Levi is nothing like his older brothers. He isn’t dark in looks or intimidating to everyone he meets. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. Haunted by a crippling shyness and the tragic events of his past, Levi spends his days with his head buried in his books, or training hard for his college football team. Too timid to talk to girls, Levi stays as far away as possible and completely on his own… until he saves the life of a troubled pretty blonde, a troubled pretty blonde that might just be the exception to his rule.
Elsie Hall is homeless. Or at least that’s all anyone ever sees. Everyday is a fight for survival on the cold streets of Seattle, everyday a struggle to find food and keep warm. Alone in life—a life that’s dangerous and cruel—her will to keep going is an ever-losing battle. In her world of silence, Elsie has given up hope that her life will contain anything but constant struggle and pain… until the beautiful boy she has severely wronged comes to her rescue at precisely the right time.
New Adult novel—contains sexual situations and mature topics. Suited for ages 18 and up.
One of my go-to authors is Tillie Cole. While all very different, her series manage to move me, to make me both sad and happy, feeling everything her characters are going through. Normally, I’m not a big fan of college romance since I’m getting a little older, but for ‘the Sweet Home series’ I’m gladly making an exception. Sweet Soul is the 4th book in the series, and tells the story of the youngest Carillo brother – Levi – and his love.
“I want the world for you, mia luna. And I pray that the girl who claims your tender heart is just as sweet as you. Someone to care for your fragile soul. Someone to cherish the gentle gift that you are, when I am no longer here to do so…”
Levi Carillo had a sad and painful childhood, although his mother loved him dearly, she couldn’t protect him – and his brothers – from the brutality of living in their neighborhood. Nowadays, Levi is a student, one of the stars of his University Football team, and heading for the NLF. Although he’s is very successful and handsome, Levi is a painfully shy, young man, not good with people – especially women. He spends his days studying, training, and helping out his brothers and their wives. To this day, he still feels guilty how he wasn’t there for his mother when she slipped away into a coma. Familiar with the downsides of life, and through his work at his sister-in-law’s treatment center, seeing Elsie in her horrible living conditions hits him hard, he feels so sorry for the girl. When he gets to know her better, he not only sees the beautiful girl she is, but another lost soul he feels connected to, shares a heartbreaking hurt with.
“I was twenty. Mamma had died when I was fourteen. I should be coping with life by now. But since the day she died, I felt like I’d been wandering a forest. A forest shrouded in dense mist. Since the day my mamma passed, I’d been trying to find a guiding light out of this mess. Desperate to find my way out of the dark.”
Elsie Hall has grown up in the worst conditions imaginable. While her deaf mother loved her very much, she wasn’t capable of taking care of herself and her half-deaf daughter properly. Living on the streets, going without food, and a drug addicted mother are all Elsie has known. When a teacher intervened, things didn’t take a turn for the better; her beloved mother died and Elsie was sent to live in a group home. Nowadays, Elsie is living in Seattle on the streets with no one looking out for her. She’s on her own, locked up in her own world, only knowing hunger and cold. Being rescued by Levi finally gives her a chance at a normal life, to regain her health and to restore her faith in humankind. Falling for Levi isn’t something she thought off, but she too feels connected to the sweet man Levi is.
“I didn’t know why, but the sight of this obviously well used rosary brought tears to my eyes, a harsh sting to my heart. Instinctively, I lifted my hand to the locket hidden well beneath my hoodie and took a deep breath. This, my simple gold locket, was all I had left. The only link I had to her, to my past. It was my most treasured possession. The only possession I had.”
Levi and Elsie are such a sweet couple, Levi so very shy and Elsie so very lost. While Elsie has learned the very hard way not to let her voice to be heard, she trusts Levi enough to open up to him, to let him hear her speak. Levi sees a kindred spirit in Elsie, from the moment he sees her he knows he has to help her. While Elsie is living with Levi’s brother Austin and his wife Lexi – their story is told in Sweet Fall – Levi and Elsie start building a friendship, open up to each other, and tell each other their deepest and painful secrets. Slowly, their friendship starts growing into something much more, something beautiful.
The story of Levi and Elsie is both beautiful as well as heartbreaking. We already know what has happened to Levi, through the previous books in ‘the Sweet Home series’. But reading about it through Levi’s eyes and knowing the sweet soul he is, makes it so much sadder. What happened to Elsie is painful to read, no one deserves to be bullied to the point of suicide for not being able to speak ‘normal’. Elsie’s hesitance to accept the help Levi and his family offered was understandable, she isn’t used to kind people—living on the street has made her suspicious of others.
“I’m not the most special guy in the world. I’m no one’s perfect dream. I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything extraordinary with my life. I’ll always be that little bit awkward, and that little bit too shy. I’ll always blush and dip my head, but if you’ll let me, I’ll be the one that’s there for you. I’ll be happy knowing I’ve got you and you’ve got me. That’s enough for me, to be the one that you can lean on, to be the one to tell you you’re beautiful every day.”
My heart broke a couple of times while reading this book, not just for Elsie and Levi, but also for both their mothers. Both women deserved so much more out of life, their lives and deaths where unfair and very touching. It was good to see all the characters from the previous books again, to see them blossom, be happy, and build families. The love they had for Levi, and also for Elsie, was beautiful to read.
I give this heartbreaking story 5 stars.
~~ Sweet Soul was provided in exchange for a honest review ~~
Moving my hand, I ran my fingers over the brown beads. “Why do you hold these, Mamma? You always have them with you. Right now, you’re clutching them real tight.”
Mamma sighed and brought the rosary to her chest. “I use them to pray to Mother Mary. She gives me strength, mia luna. I pray to her for strength.” Mamma’s voice cracked again and I tried to think hard. I tried to think why she needed strength.
Blinking, a thought came to me and I asked, “Is it Austin and Axel? Do you pray for them? Because of the Heighters?”
Mamma sighed and ran her finger down my cheek. “Always, mia luna. I always pray for them. For what they do each night for that gang.”
I shook my head, knowing there was something else. “But what—”
“Shh,” Mamma whispered. She then held up the rosary and placed it in my hand. She curled her hand around mine and pressed the beads into my palm. “Levi, you take these now. I want you to have these. I want you to keep them for strength. For the strength you will need someday soon.”
I frowned and shook my head. “No, Mamma. They’re yours. I’m strong with you around. I don’t need these.”
Mamma’s head dropped, and she took a deep breath.
“Mamma?” I questioned. She was acting real strange.
Mamma wiped her cheeks and a sad smile spread on her lips. “Va bene, mia luna. I’ll keep them for now. Grazie. Always thinking of your mamma. But one day, when… when I’m not here, you keep these with you. I want you to remember that these are yours. You are not your brothers, Levi. You are kind and shy, not hard and boisterous, ready to fight the world. You are my quiet baby boy. My sweet, sweet soul.”
“I’m not weak,” I pushed, hating that I wasn’t like my brothers. Axel and Austin were strong and tough. I wanted to be just like them.
Mamma pressed a kiss to my forehead. “Never, Levi. You are a Carillo boy after all. But you are different from Austin and Axel. They are alike in so many ways—hot headed and tough, hard on the outside until they let you in. You are the timid one, the gentle brother—inside and out. You are the one to carry his heart on his sleeve. You are the one who watches silently from afar and loves with all his soul. ” Mamma huffed, and said, “Whoever you end up with, my son, whoever claims your heart, will be a very special girl indeed.” Her finger stroked my cheek. “So much love, mia luna. You will love with your whole being, and it will be forever. You could not love in any other way.”