9 Letters is Blake Austin's debut novel, so I wasn't really sure what to expect here. I was drawn in by the blurb and beautiful cover, and this story had so much potential. While I feel like the story had a great premise, I did think that the execution wasn't entirely there. For a debut novel this one wasn't bad, but I definitely had some mixed feelings overall.
A year after the death of his wife, Luke Cawley receives a package containing nine letters she had written him. With each letter comes a task he must complete before he can open the next letter. His first letter calls for him to adopt a dog, and it is at that shelter that he meets Rae. Rae has had a series of bad relationships and is looking for something lasting. With both Luke and Rae trying to move forward with their lives, they will each have healing to do before they can fully move on. But can they help one another and find happiness in each other, or will there be too much damage to overcome?
I had a bit of a tough time connecting to both Luke and Rae. Part of that was understandable as we only had Luke's POV. It made it difficult to connect with Rae because I felt like she was not around much. Since we didn't have her thoughts or what she was going through, I just never felt like we really got to know Rae or form any kind of connection with her. Even though we did have Luke's POV, I felt the same way about him. Although he was a constant in this story, I just felt detached and as though we weren't really getting much depth from him. It all felt on the surface, and honestly he drove me a bit nuts at times. Yes he had lost his wife and was grieving, and yet I wasn't really seeing much progress for him. It felt like he was going through the motions and was just doing each item to the next letter. I thought that his focus on Maggie was a bit too much too, as she seemed to almost have more of a place in his life than Rae did. I felt like their relationship was more present that what we saw of him developing something with Rae. I wanted more, and I never really felt like we got that.
I also felt like this book needed a bit of work when it came to the writing itself. While the story was there and I liked the concept, it was the execution I found lacking. There were times that the story would switch from present to past and back again, with no explanation. While it was usually at the start of the chapter, there were no designations and the reader was left to figure it out within the first few paragraphs or pages and things would be referenced to either time (it would mention something going on in high school rather than the present) or we would see characters that weren't a part of either the past or present. It was confusing, and it would have been much easier had the reader had some type of warning of the switch. I also had some issues with how things were worded. Some sentences were just a bit odd, and there would be extra words or they would be out of order. It was distracting and I would have to read some of them several times to understand what the author had meant. There were also several times that things were a bit exaggerated, especially when it came to the constant reminding the reader that the story took place in Missouri and more specifically Kansas City, as well as how redneck the author made some of these characters sound. I actually live in the Kansas City, Missouri area (born, raised, and lived my whole life here), and the way some of these characters talked is like no one else I have ever heard from this area. Not saying we don't have our fair share of rednecks, but some of this was just over the top and slightly insulting with how some of these characters spoke and acted. I also didn't like how the author kept bringing up KCMO like the reader would have suddenly forgot where the story was taking place. It just wasn't necessary to beat the reader over the head with it like we weren't intelligent enough to remember.
The other thing that I will say is that this story isn't exactly what I would classify as a romance. There were some romantic elements, but honestly this book was more about grief and healing that it was about love. Luke had been through a lot and was trying to move forward with his life, and that was the focus of this book. The actual love part was a bit of the past with his wife Emily and very little in the present with Rae. By the time anything really happened in the present, the book was abruptly over. I actually thought that I was missing something at the end of the book, because it just stopped. I didn't care for the way that it ended, and would have liked to have been given a bit more. We are lead to believe that things are on the right track for Luke, but this was one of the most abrupt endings for a standalone story that I have ever read. So while I think that this book had a lot of potential, it unfortunately fell flat for me. I think that Blake Austin does have promise as a writer, but I think there are some things here that could have used some work and a good set of beta readers would go a long way in helping Austin's future as an author.
**ARC Provided by TRSOR Promotions**