Riley Dawson isn’t your normal psychotherapist. Sure, she’s smart and compassionate, but she’s a werecoyote to boot. She was adopted by a rich couple after she was found abandoned as a baby on the Appalachian Trail. She led a privileged life, never wanting for anything. She felt most at home during the summers when her family rented a cabin in the woods. She’d play all day along the trails and swimming in the lake. Most of all, she looked forward to seeing Fiona Bell each summer.
Fiona Bell is the daughter of an evangelical preacher. Her family owned the cabins the Dawson’s rented each summer. Fiona was a free spirit. She loved exploring with Riley, tending to her two turtles, and creating wood furniture and trinkets. Her connection with Riley was strong and she looked forward to summers just as much as Riley.
At sixteen the two girls declare their love for each other. They dream about the house Fiona will build for them to live in, because at sixteen anything is possible. Yes, anything is possible until the impossible happens. Fueled by raging hormones, her love for Fiona, and a full moon, Riley experiences her first transformation. The physical agony from turning into a werecoyote is nothing compared to the emotional pain of being rejected by her parents.
The Dawson’s leave the cabin, never to return. Riley’s and Fiona’s parents see to it the girls never speak to each other again, and Riley bides her time until her father drops her off at college with the understanding that she’s on her own.
Studying to become a licensed clinical social worker at Smith College, Riley meets Dr. Margaret Spencer. She is a gifted professor who becomes Riley’s mentor and maternal figure. After graduation, Peggy brings Riley on as her protégé and they soon open a private practice together. For all intents and purposes, Riley is content with her life. She loves her career and feels safe and cared for by her chosen family which includes Peggy’s partner and brother-in-law. They are the only people who know her secret. She’s learned to accept her lycanthropic self – even enjoying being part of the pack of coyotes that inhabit the three acres behind her house. The one thing Riley doesn’t have is a life partner. She can’t risk letting anyone else know what she can become. Her deepest fear is being found out and forced to live what’s left of her days in a lab, being studied as a freak of nature.
One day her clinic has two new clients; a mother and daughter trapped in an abusive household. When the pair turns up for their first appointment, Riley is shocked to see Fiona walk back into her life. In an instant, Riley’s world is turned upside down. The chemistry between Fiona and Riley is still there. They’ve never stopped loving each other.
Riley knows that ethically; she can’t insert herself back into Fiona’s life. She’s a patient and a married woman. However, knowing the hell Fiona’s husband is putting her and their daughter through is too much for her to overlook. How far will Riley go to free Fiona from her abusive marriage, and is she willing to reveal her secret to the one woman she’s always loved?
Riley and Fiona are immediately likeable. I always enjoy seeing main characters in their younger years when love was simple and uncomplicated. Their friendship naturally becomes romantic over time and seeing their vulnerable first kiss caught me sighing out loud.
Riley isn’t your stereotypical shape shifter. When I think of lycanthropes, I think of brooding characters who keep to the shadows and live solitary existences. Riley certainly faces a heart wrenching form of isolation after her first change, but with the help of her friend and mentor she pushes past it and eventually embraces her unusual ability. I love that she’s so darn smart, and I love it even more that she’s able to see humor in her circumstances. She has a good life, but it’s clear there’s a Fiona shaped hole in her heart that’s never healed. I wasn’t quite sure if she was going to risk her safety to help Fiona and I certainly didn’t know if she could go to extreme lengths. That’s one of the lovely things about Riley – she continually surprised me.
I adore Fiona. She has such a zest for life. I really believed that she was going to build that house for Riley and create that perfect happily ever after. It was so disheartening to see the woman she’d become when she walked back into Riley’s life. There’s a fine line between being a damsel in distress and being a victim. I’m fond of the former – don’t care for the latter. Williams does an excellent job keeping Fiona sympathetic without letting her seem like a passive sufferer. She’s a fighter and it’s clear her primary concern is the safety of her daughter. My mouth was ajar as she told Riley everything that had transpired in her life since they were torn apart. I think by the time Fiona reenters Riley’s life; she’s done. It’s Riley’s love that gives her hope more so than Riley’s actions.
The book is filled with a fantastic group of secondary characters. Each one of them is an integral part of the story. They aren’t there to fill out the background. They move the plot along and create a diverse, textured world.
The Writing Style
Coyote Blues is fascinating. The book starts out entirely from Riley’s point of view. Her first change into a werecoyote is absolutely heartbreaking because she’s so alone in the terror of the transformation. Then the reader experiences the sad solitude of her life as she waits out her teens and leaves for college. At this point, Williams adds Peggy’s point of view to the mix. I loved seeing Riley from a totally different perspective. It added a dimension to her that made me feel more connected to her. As the story progresses, Williams keeps adding points of view from various characters. This makes for a very rich and layered narrative. It’s especially powerful when we find ourselves in Fiona’s husband’s head.
The pacing of the story is fantastic. Williams starts out with an introduction to the characters, their backstories, their hopes and dreams, and before you know it, you’re in the middle of a thriller that I guarantee will keep you reading way past your bedtime. There are a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming and the tale didn’t end the way I thought it would. No spoilers, but damn the ending is satisfying.
This book is so well researched! My goodness, I feel like I got an education in abnormal psychology and zoology all at once from the fun professor whose lectures are always packed. The details about how coyotes live in the wild was fascinating. Who knew? I love books that deal with psychopaths so getting a refresher course on the ins and outs of deviant personalities was absorbing as well. The details Williams sprinkles throughout the narrative are a treat.
A Head’s Up
It should be noted the book contains scenes depicting family physical and emotional abuse.
One of the side characters is Asian and there are a few characterizations/descriptions attributed to her that are subtly racist. I’ve no doubt they’re unintentional, but they are worth noting.
This is the part of the review where we ask ourselves, “Should the readers buy this book?” I can answer a resounding, “Yes.” Coyote Blues is the perfect mix of three distinct genres. The romance is both heartwarming and sexy. The paranormal aspect is just plausible enough that I’ll never look at a coyote the same way again, and the thriller aspect is a nail biter. All together this made me a happy reviewer. I hope you enjoy it, too.
Excerpt from Coyote Blues by Karen F. Williams
Bursting with an irrepressible energy, Riley slipped on the water shoes she’d left on the dock, but before she could take off and run free, the change grabbed hold of her. Without warning it stabbed her between the shoulder blades, a shooting pain so excruciating, so crippling, she was sure her back had been broken. It happened so fast she didn’t know who or what had attacked from behind. It yanked her by the ankles, tore the shoes from her feet, pulled her legs from underneath her so swiftly her knees hit the dock.
A dozen panicked thoughts flashed through her mind, the first being that some prehistoric lake monster had surfaced and impaled her with a sword-like barb. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, numbing any further pain as she fought for her life. She struggled to crawl forward, to get herself off the dock and up the steps to the safety of the house before this thing pulled her into the water.
“Dad? Daddy!” Riley screamed, writhing on her stomach, kicking, twisting from side to side to see what had her in its death grip. But her arms and legs wouldn’t cooperate. The messages her brain was sending weren’t reaching her extremities. She flayed, half paralyzed, craning her neck to see what was behind her.
Nothing. Nothing was there. Nothing at all. And at that moment Riley realized she was being attacked from the inside. A sickening panic gripped her, along with flashbacks to Dr. Blacksberg’s long-ago conversation with her mother.
No spina bifida? No tethered spinal cord? It’s a medical miracle that your daughter isn’t disabled, deformed.
Riley cried out again. It was happening—some congenital anomaly finally catching up with her. Perhaps the amputation of her tail had delayed the onset, but now here it came, some latent spinal deformity that would have her in a wheelchair the rest of her life. Spasms coursed through her as she crawled forward, extending her arms and finally managing to grip the edge of the dock. But as she clung to it, slowly pulling herself forward, her fingers began to shorten and lose their grip. She watched in horror as her thumbs withered away into useless, sickle-like dewclaws. “Help! Daddy, help me!”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781635555585
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
- Karen F. Williams Online
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