I am pleased to participate in the blog tour for Forever Home by Elysia Whisler. This is the second book in the Dogwood County series that features Veterans and service dogs. Scroll down for my review, a Q&A with the author and an excerpt.

Forever Home (Dogwood County #2) by Elysia Whisler, Lisa Larsen (Narrator)

Expected publication: November 30th 2021 by MIRA, Harlequin Audio

About the Book: If home is where the heart is, Dogwood County may have just what Delaney Monroe needs.

Newly retired from the Marine Corps, Delaney is looking for somewhere to start over. It’s not going to be easy, but when she finds the perfect place to open her dream motorcycle shop, she goes for it. What she doesn’t expect is an abandoned pit bull to come with the building. The shy pup is slow to trust, but Delaney is determined to win it over.

Detective Sean Callahan is smitten from the moment he sees Delaney, but her cool demeanor throws him off his game. When her late father’s vintage motorcycle is stolen from Delaney’s shop, Sean gets to turn up in his element: chasing the bad guy and showing his best self to a woman who’s gotten under his skin in a bad way.

Delaney isn’t used to lasting relationships, but letting love in – both human and canine – helps her see that she may have found a place she belongs, forever.

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4.5 Stars:

Forever Home is the second book in the Dogwood County series, but it can be read as a standalone. Having said that, I really enjoyed Rescue You, the first in the series and definitely recommend it as well. In Forever Home, we meet several vets living in Dogwood County, see their struggles as well as how they support one another as they heal. The MC in this story is Delaney, a recently discharged marine. Delaney was raised by her father, a motorcycle head, and his buddies as her mother left when she was young. She loves riding and working on bikes and has dreamed of opening her own repair shop. Just before she musters out, her father dies and she inherits his vintage motorcycle that has been passed down by previous generations. She finds the perfect spot for her business, a store with apartment attached, buys it, and begins to set up her business. When she finds an abandoned pitbull pup in the shop, she turns to a pitbull rescue for help. It appears he used to belong to the previous owners of the shop and he keeps escaping the rescue to return to the only home he knows. Slow to trust, Delaney is determined to work with him and becomes his foster. She meets other vets at the local gym, Semper Fit, including a young woman she met while on active duty. Throw in a local police detective, also a vet, who is attracted to Delaney and you know there will be some sexual tension. When Delaney becomes a victim of some illegal acts (theft of her vintage motorcycle, theft of her dog, threats) the story heats up even more.

I really enjoyed this story. Delaney is a great character. She has not had an easy life, but a good one. After the death of her father, his friends (honorary uncles) step up to support her. She is smart, strong, caring yet vulnerable as well. She has no intention of getting involved with someone, but sometimes our emotions overrule our brains. Detective Sean Callahan is immediately attracted to Delaney and when he and his partner are assigned to the case of the motorcycle theft, he spends a lot more time and energy on the case than normal. He has some hidden talents that come to light and make him more attractive to Delaney. The romance moves at a good pace, dealing with both Delaney’s and Sean’s insecurities and doubts. Tabitha is a vet who is suffering from PTSD. She is also struggling with other issues and Delaney becomes a great support to her as well. The secondary characters are all wonderful and I hope they will continue to appear in other books. Of course, the bad guys, two seedy brothers, are also well written and boy did I dislike them, just as the author intended, I’m sure.

This is a well written and plotted story. There is some suspense and romance, but there is so much more to the story than it sounds. Ms. Whisler writes veterans with PTSD and/or physical impairments with empathy making them very realistic and relatable. She doesn’t give snap or easy solutions, but shows that support is needed for transitions to life after the military. I absolutely love the addition of The Canine Warriors, a local charity that trains service dogs for vets. There were several dogs in the book and they all play important roles. There are so many themes in this book, such as female business owners trying to survive in a male-dominated business, struggling with PTSD, support animals and people not understanding their roles, finding comfort with who you are, trusting again, forgiveness, abuse by superiors, bullying and more. I did a real/listen with this story and enjoyed both formats. Lisa Larsen is a new narrator to me, and I will not hesitate to listen to books she narrated in the future. Her tone, expression, pauses and emotions made it an enjoyable book to listen to. She did a good job with most of the voices, especially with Delaney’s making her character fit the story well. I definitely recommend this book, in either format. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book on request. The rating and opinions shared are my own.

Purchase (Preorder) Links: BookShop.orgHarlequinBarnes & NobleAmazonBooks-A-MillionPowell’s


ONE Three Rebels Street. Delaney should’ve known that this was where she’d end up. This was the kind of street a woman went down when all the big changes in her life were happening at once. You simply couldn’t hit a retirement ceremony, the road and a fu¬neral all in one week and not end up on Three Rebels Street. “Small is not the right word. I prefer quaint.” The real estate agent, Ronnie, gazed around the studio apartment situated on Three Rebels Street, and nodded her head in approval. “You said it was just for you, right? Which means it’s the perfect size.” Stop trying to sell me on the apartment. Ronnie had described it as an “alcove studio”—not just a studio—because even though the living room and kitchen were all in one large space, the bedroom was situated in a little nook, with its own door. Delaney didn’t care. The living quarters didn’t really matter. Right now the place was dumpy. Dust everywhere, the ceil¬ing fan hanging crooked with exposed wires, and debris in the corners, like the previous tenants hadn’t taken care of the place and then left in a hurry. “We didn’t have a chance to get this cleaned before your showing,” Ronnie said, following Delaney’s gaze. “Remem¬ber, I suggested waiting until Friday.” But Delaney hadn’t been able to wait. Ronnie lowered her voice to a near whisper. “They were evicted. But this place cleans up nice, I promise.” “Can we go back down to the shop?” Delaney ran her hands through her hair, rubbing the weariness from her scalp. Ron¬nie had whisked them through the front bay door and up the stairs, like the apartment was the prize inside the cereal box. And Delaney supposed it was—small, an add-on, not really the point. For Delaney, the shop downstairs was the entire point. “Of course.” Ronnie’s voice was bright, forced, like she didn’t give two shits. This was probably her last showing of the day and she wanted to get home, into a hot bath with a glass of red as soon as possible. She clacked down the stairs in her high heels. Delaney followed, the earthy clunk of her motorcycle boots the bass drum in the cacophony of their feet. “The shop.” Ronnie swept out her arm. “Look how much space.” There was no enthusiasm in her voice. Ronnie, who probably did mostly living spaces, had no idea how to sell the garage. Didn’t matter. Delaney sized up the shop herself: concrete floor, perfect for working on bikes. It was kind of dinged up, but that was okay, she was already envisioning painting it beige with nonslip floor paint. Modern fluorescent lighting. Large bay door, wide-open to the cool air, excellent for ven¬tilation. A countertop with a register. Empty shelves on one side for parts and motor clothes. Showroom space for custom bikes, and enough room for at least two workspaces out front. The rest, Delaney would provide. Hydraulic lifts. Workbench. Parts tank. Tools. Parts. Bikes. She wanted to pinch herself, but chose a poker face. Ron¬nie stood in the center of the floor, like she was trying to avoid touching anything, to avoid getting any grease or oil on her smart red suit. The shop was in better condition than the apartment, but it still looked like the last occupants had left quickly—or, if they’d truly been evicted, perhaps reluctantly was a better word. Nothing important remained, but the place hadn’t been swept or washed or readied for sale in any manner. “I’ll consider this.” Delaney rubbed her chin as she strode through the shop. “It’s a little small.” It was actually larger than she’d expected. “Light’s good, but might get a little cold in the winter.” It was winter now, technically. Mid-March. Delaney loved this time of year, when winter and spring inter-sected, like lovers making up after a nasty fight, the weather edgy and unpredictable. “There’s a lot of interest in this space.” Ronnie clutched her clipboard to her chest as she looked around. She could be look¬ing at the inside of a spaceship and hold that same expression. Motorcycle shops were going out of business, all over the place, including the one that had recently vacated. After sud¬denly finding herself on Three Rebels Street last week, in front of a shop-apartment combo for sale, Delaney had done her research. The previous tenants, who she now knew had been evicted, were brothers who ran a shop by day and lived upstairs by night. They sold mostly new bikes and motorcycle gear. Repairs and maintenance were basic. Their website was still up, despite the fact that Dude’s Bikes had closed. Dude’s appeared to focus mostly on male riders, leaving Delaney to wonder if Dude’s was just about dudes or if one of the own¬ers was, indeed, named Dude. “What’s the story on this place?” Ronnie glanced at her clipboard. “The owner wants to sell. After the last renters’ lease ran out, they were given the op¬tion of buying or moving. I don’t think their shop was doing well, because they couldn’t afford to buy. They weren’t even paying their rent. And they weren’t quick about moving. The rest, as they say, is history.” If the last motorcycle shop had failed, buying would be a gamble. But any business venture was a gamble. Life was a gamble. “There are a couple of people looking, after you.” Ronnie continued, “About five.” Delaney could respect white lies in the sales biz but seri¬ously? Five? Five or so people were waiting to check out the bike shop with an overhead apartment suitable for one small, low-maintenance tenant? She had no idea how two brothers had managed up there. She strolled through the space, wanting a good feel. She needed to touch things, inhale the shop, draw its molecules into her lungs and taste its history before she could decide on the symbiosis of her dream space. Triple M Classics—short for Martin Monroe’s Motorcycles, named after her father—would own her as much as she would it, so this relationship was going to be deep and mutual. Through the front window, she could see the parkway that ran the length of the county. At just past eighteen-hundred hours, rush hour was a jam of red taillights in the waning daylight. No amount of time would erase Delaney’s memory of her last tour here, when she had to commute to work every day. Pure hell. It would be nice to go right upstairs to her cozy little apartment after closing, rather than having to sit in that mess. Across the street was a row of shops, including a grocery story and an Italian restaurant. Food. Check. On the south side, the shop butted up to the woods, which had a downward slope of grass and weeds that led to the trees. Privacy. Double check. Plus, Delaney figured if there was a tornado, that slope could count as a ditch, and would probably be the safest place to run. She laughed at herself. This wasn’t Omaha. Virginia tornado season consisted of a few warnings that rarely panned out. Delaney withdrew the listing, printed from the internet, from her back pocket, crammed together with a grocery re¬ceipt for extra firm tofu, Tater Tots and Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. “This is the price, right?” She handed over the paper. Money would be tight, but Delaney should be able to man-age for a little while until things got going. That is, if she was going to do this. Was she really going to do this? All her adult life Delaney had moved around, from station to station. Forts, camps, bases. Not shops. Not homes. She’d never put down roots. Never had anything permanent other than her childhood home with Dad. Never owned a thing she couldn’t cram into a duffel bag. Ronnie looked at the paper. “No.” She sniffed. “There’s a newer listing.” She flipped through her clipboard, laid it on the counter and pointed. “Here we go.” Delaney looked at the asking price, choked a little bit, al¬most thanked Ronnie for her time and left. That would be the smart thing to do. Sometimes childhood dreams just needed to stay dreams. She strode around once more, mentally saying goodbye to everything that she’d never even made hers. Even though all of this had been a panster move, it felt like all the blood in her veins had been replaced with disappointment. She stopped by the far wall, where a ratty piece of paper hung by a sliver of tape. Delaney smoothed out the curled edges and read the flyer. Fiftieth Annual Classic Motorcycle Show. Dogwood County Fairgrounds. The event was in July. There was a contest, including prizes. The grand prize for the winning classic cycle was five grand plus a feature article in Ride magazine. The disappointment started to drain away. Five grand wouldn’t pay all the bills, but exposure in a major motorcycle magazine would be a boon for business. Plus, there was some¬thing about that poster, just hanging there like that. It seemed like a sign. Excerpted from Forever Home by Elysia Whisler, Copyright © 2021 by Elysia Whisler. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About the Author: Elysia Whisler was raised in Texas, Italy, Alaska, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawaii, and Virginia, in true military fashion. If she’s not writing she’s probably working out, coaching, or massaging at her CrossFit gym. She lives in Virginia with her family, including her large brood of cat and dog rescues, who vastly outnumber the humans.

Social Media: Website – Twitter – Facebook – Instagram – Goodreads

Q&A with Elysia Whisler

Q: This is the second book in a series? Do you have plans to write more books in this series?

A: Yes! “Becoming Family” is Book 3 in the Dogwood County series. It will be out in August of 2022. I have hopes for a couple more books in the series after that, too!

Q: What should the reader know if they have not read the first book in the series?

A: So far, the early readers think Forever Home does really well as a standalone if you have not read Book 1. The only thing I’d add, if you have not read Book 1, be prepared that I always have 3 points of view. Some traditional romance readers like to see the POV go between two love interests but I always have a third POV that typically sets up the next book. This third POV does not get as much space as the other two but just be prepared for it. I know it’s unusual but I’m okay with that.

Q: Where do you get your story ideas from?

A: My stories usually start with a single scene or idea that I build around. With Rescue You I worked around the idea of how everyone (human or animal, male or female)  can be either the hero or the saved in life, depending on the situation. With Forever Home, I wanted a super strong female lead to match up for my detective character from Book 1. My teen daughter had just finished getting her motorcycle license and it hit me … my heroine was going to be a badass biker chick. We see so many guys on motorcycles in romance and the women are always on the back. I wanted a heroine who drove her own bike and a man strong enough to love that.

Q: Are you a plotter or pantser when it comes to writing?

A: Mostly a pantster. I usually have a broad concept of the story, have a beginning and an end and usually a midpoint idea. Then I start writing and once I’ve got the opening (first 30-50) I’ll go back and outline a little more. Then write. Then outline. Etc.

Q: What is a fun fact about you?

A: I love to read horror, especially literary horror. I read everything — I don’t care about genre, only good storytelling and solid writing — but 75% of my TBR pile is horror/thriller/mystery.

Q: You grew up in the military and moved around quite a bit. Did you enjoy this? How do you think it has affected the stories you write?

A: Moving around was a mixed bag. I loved getting to travel and go to new places. I actually adored the traveling part — by plane, train, car. I made up stories in my head about being a fugitive running off to new lands. I’d spend a lot of plane/car time writing by hand. The hard part was getting to the new places and having to establish all new friendships and schools. I barely ever got to see extended family (grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins). I never had that community of people I grew up with. That said, I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s. I got to experience so many different lands, cultures, climates. Living in Alaska at a young age in particular instilled in me a great love for the natural world that I’m grateful for to this day. All of that informed my writing in a big way. There’s definitely something to be said for seeing the world, getting outside your bubble and having that experience. The best compliments I get are on my characters being complex and real and I credit that directly to all the moving around I did. When you’re always new you have to be quiet, pay attention, watch and understand. You learn a lot that way.