Normal. It was a relative term, or so I thought.
After a relationship from hell that almost killed me, I didn’t want another man in my life. A job, a home, and great friends were all I needed.
Until two men interrupted the calm I was pretending to be.
One could take me to the future—a future I never dared to dream I could have. A man who gave me a chance to smile and fix the mistakes I’d made. But, I shouldn’t get a second chance at a happily ever after.
The other would take me back to the past—a past I didn’t want but was all I knew. After losing the most important thing in my life, I didn’t deserve more than that.
Faced with choices I didn’t see coming, I knew I had to make a decision. Be thrust forward into a new life, or be held prisoner of bad choices from my old one. I was just striving for normal, but I didn’t know what normal was anymore.
Ages 18+ due to adult situations and violence.
Perfection is a gimmick.
It’s something they use to sell you shit you don’t need. The perfect home. The perfect family. The perfect marriage. Photos of that perfect life are all around us, but none of it exists.
I know better because I take those photos. It’s all a ruse to make us think that's what we want. Behind closed doors, the house is a mess, the family is fighting, and that loving couple hates each other. I prefer a different city every week, laughing friends, and a variety of lovers.
Until Carl. I’m not sure what I want when he’s around.
Perfection is an illusion.
It’s something used to make you forget all the bad shit that happens in this world. It’s an unattainable dream not worth the effort.
I had the perfect home. The perfect family. The perfect marriage. Or so I thought. That illusion died with my wife and slammed me into reality. Aside from my daughter, business deals and making money is where my heart is now.
Until Rachael. I’m not sure what I feel when she’s around.
Ages 18+ due to adult situations and violence.
We all want to feel accepted, but sometimes we do unacceptable things. When we push it too far and do the unforgivable, are we still allowed to hope for that acceptance?
Or are we doomed to accept a life of loneliness?
My current bed friend is someone who’s struggling to find his own acceptance. His big crime? He’s following his dreams. His father can’t accept the fact he no longer wants to follow in his footsteps. Should he be shut out because he quit the family business? I don’t think so. But if he should, I’ve got bigger problems.
I cheated on my husband and then killed the man I cheated with. Would you still accept me?
Ages 18+ due to adult situations and violence.
Title: The Striving Series Box Set
Author: B.L. Mooney
Release Date: August 29, 2015
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series or Standalone: Standalone Series
The Striving Series Boxed Set consists of three stories combined into one. Striving for Normal, which is Drew and Dennis’s love story. Striving for Perfection, Carl and Rachael’s story, and finally, Striving for Acceptance, Mick and Deb’s story.
Before I go into my review for these stories, it should be stated that before reading, there are instances of domestic abuse (both physical, emotional and mental) in these stories, along with the loss of a child (in the first story) and scenes of violence. So if you are triggered or easily offended by such situations, proceed with caution.
These books, all three of them were extremely trying emotionally for me. Especially the stories in Book 1 and 3. That’s not to take away from Rachael’s story, but with what Drew and then ultimately Deb lived through within Striving for Normal, I was pulled more toward them than I was the other sister Rachael.
I suppose I should have been wary of reading a book about Deb considering what part she plays within Drew and her brother Dennis’s story, but I wasn’t. There was something about this woman I had to know and by the time I turned that last page, I can safely say that I got what I was after with her. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
Drew’s life is anything but normal. After surviving an abusive relationship, she’s struggling with moving on with her life in every aspect, but no more so than romantically. In fact, it’s the very last thing she’s looking for as this story starts, but as time progresses (especially with both of her best friends wanting her to get back out into the world long after she’s safely away from her ex), it’s exactly what she gets.
Enter Dennis and Carl.
It should be stated that this book is indeed a mild love triangle and depending on your views on the subject, could very well contain cheating (if you look at things the way Deb obviously was), but for me and for any reader that’s following along, it wasn’t that way at all. Drew was a conflicted woman. The only real relationship she’d ever known being one drenched in control. So when sweet normal Dennis enters her life, she has no idea what to do with it. Enter Carl, who at times acts much like the ex she left behind (shades of the only way she’s known in terms of dating) and quite understandably she’s torn in two different directions.
Her road to healing, finding her normal wasn’t an easy one to stomach and at times I had to put the book down because of the vividness of her flashbacks and just how truly undone she seemed to be from what she’d lived through with her ex, but it was a fulfilling one by the time the book ends.
I do believe in the end that being with Dennis, whether he was meek and mild compared to the controlling and dominant way she was used to or not, was the right man for her. How sweet he was, how caring, it was fantastic and quite frankly, just what she needed, even if it did take her awhile to get there.
Which brings me to Carl and Rachael’s story.
Now I went into this one not a really big fan of Carl. I mean the crap he pulled with Drew was still very prevalent in my mind so I wasn’t entirely sure I would buy what would eventually take place between Dennis’s sister Rachael and him. I wasn’t even sure I was going to believe in his ability to be a father to Amy with the manipulations he had previously pulled, but both he and Rachael proved me wrong.
There was a lot more going on with Carl than we’re privy to within the first book, same as with Rachael and by books end I do believe it’s safe to say I was a believer in them in a long term way. Which given the way it all started, and really what they were to each other at one point, I wasn’t expecting to feel.
And last but certainly not least, Deb and Mick.
You never really see just what Deb had to endure after the events that took place near the end of Striving for Normal. You see what she’s done (what I wouldn’t wish on any human being), and you witness the struggle of that within in, how it changes her, but you never really see the way it all plays out for her behind the scenes. How truly afraid she is to move on because she never knows when the carpet is going to be pulled out from under her.
Deb is living her life on eggshells, but with the help of her therapist, and a reconnection with her family and essentially with Drew, you see her attempting to live. Starting her own business, living a dream of hers and building it from the ground up, she seems to be getting on solid ground again despite what’s waiting for her on the horizon.
I have to say, of all the males in this book, Mick was my favorite and I absolutely adored the way he was with her. Sure, he noticed her aversion to all things police in the beginning and he kept the nature of his job (a job he hates) from her because of it, and then the missteps he takes with her along the way all in an effort to get her to open up to him, but his heart was in the right place. What he did, how he pushed her, it wasn’t out of malice or wanting to cause her pain. It was love, pure and simple and I was rooting for these two right from the start because of it.
It’s hard to say for sure, but I think I felt more reading Deb’s story than I even did reading Drew’s and that’s because despite the way she starts out, Deb isn’t the way she appears. She’s so much more complex. She’s not the person everyone (even her family) believes her to be. She feels and she loves, she’s just afraid to. She’s afraid that anyone getting close enough to her beyond a sexual relationship won’t accept what she’s done, what she has to live with doing and so she doesn’t allow herself to get close. My heart absolutely ached for her and then near the end when a truth is revealed, it was like the weight had been lifted off my shoulders the way it was lifted off hers.
It was an emotional tale with what I believe quite frankly is a very appropriate end.
But it doesn’t end there. With the end of Deb’s story comes a short little glimpse into the other two couples in the future as well. It was a nice touch and one that I’m so glad that I got to see because if anyone deserves long term happily ever after’s it’s these three couples.
But this series wasn’t just about romance and the HEA for me. It was about moving on, growing and changing from the person you once were and really allowing yourself to live, to love and to feel again. It was about family and the ties that bind with them.
This was my first taste of B.L. Mooney’s writing but if any of her other work reads anything like these books, I can say it definitely won’t be my last. I was taken on one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride, times three. Each one seemingly more moving than the last.
My thanks to the author and all others involved in letting me read and review these stories. I’m glad I got to experience them in their entirety.
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B.L. Mooney started writing when the voices and storylines in her head ran out of room. They were getting too cramped and neither B.L. nor the characters could take it anymore, so she did the only thing she could do—she made room. She always knew she wanted to write, but vowed to make time for it later. Now that she’s made time for writing, most everything else falls to the wayside. That seems to suit the characters that keep popping up just fine.
B.L. lives in the Midwest and her other talents include in-demand cookies, a very dry sense of humor, and stealth eavesdropping. Some mannerisms, attitudes, or twists come from random sentences picked up while passing by strangers. So speak up the next time you have something to gossip about. You never know, it may just end up on the pages of the next book you read.