Sunday, April 21, 2013

Love At Any Cost by Julie Lessman

I've read all but one of Julie Lessman's previous books, and have enjoyed them all. She has a real knack for weaving intricate/angsty plots full of intersecting characters and secondary story lines. I'm happy to say, if you're a fan of her previous series', there's a good chance you'll like Love At Any Cost as well. Here's the synopsis:

Jilted by a fortune hunter, cowgirl Cassidy McClare is a spunky Texas oil heiress without a fortune who would just as soon hogtie a man as look at him. Hoping a summer visit with her wealthy cousins in San Francisco will help her forget her heartache, Cassidy travels west. But no sooner is she settled in beautiful California than Jamie McKenna, a handsome pauper looking to marry well, captures her heart. When Jamie discovers the woman he loves is poorer than he is, Cassidy finds herself bucked by love a second time. Will Jamie discover that money can't buy love after all? And can Cassidy ever learn to fully trust her heart to a man?

Right from the start, you know Cassy McClare is a total Texan spitfire. Her very first sentence-"Sweet Thunderation-deliver me from pretty men!"-tells you she is not one to mince words and has little toleration for "pretty boy polecats." To be honest, I wasn't sure if her extreme feistiness would drive me nuts after a while-because it seemed a bit over the top-but she did grow on me as the story went on. I began to empathize with her obvious heartbreak and determination to threaten all men who looked at her twice-especially the, yup, pretty ones-with her formidable hog tying skills, even as I felt badly for any poor sap who got a kick in the leg with Cassy's cowboy boots.

So, into Cassy's emotionally traumatized existence comes Jamie McKenna who is even better looking than her ex-fiancee-big uh oh. Huge. You can already see the sparks and soon to be physical/egotistical bruising on the horizon, right? Clueless Jamie lays on the charm right off the bat because he believes Cassy to be a wealthy oil heiress, and he's looking to snag a rich wife in order to pay for his crippled sister's much needed hip surgery, among other things. They forge a strong friendship as Cassy quickly makes it clear she isn't ready to start a new relationship, yet they can't deny a gradual longing for something more. However, Jamie doesn't share Cassidy's faith, and he discovers she is not the well off rich girl he's been planning on. With both of their hearts already involved, is there a way to work out their seemingly insurmountable circumstances?

As with all Julie Lessman novels, there are plenty of surprises throughout the story that will keep you guessing as to where things are heading next. Jamie and Cassidy were a fun couple to follow, even if both of them had certain traits that didn't always make them appealing in my eyes. I wasn't always sure I believed in Jamie's level of complete love/devotion toward Cassy, even right up till the end.


For example: One second he's talking to his friend about the girl he's courting-not Cassy- and describing how he's lucky that she's smart, rich, and beautiful-but a few sentences later, he's surprised/upset when he finds out Cassy-who he has reluctantly but knowingly thrown over for said girl- fled to get away from his betrayal. Huh? To me, he just came across as kind of shallow/selfish at times and I wasn't totally convinced of his quick turnaround/change of heart towards the end. Also, I wish that Cassy would have expected Jamie to earn her trust back over a longer period of time, rather than just immediately accept his proposal without much of an argument.


There are also quite a few other characters that interact with our main hero/heroine, the most notable being Cassidy's Aunt Caitlyn and Uncle Logan. Cait is a widow, previously married to Logan McClare's brother Liam, but it was Logan who was her first love. Unfortunately, he messed up big time, lost her trust, and had to step back as Liam and Cait started a life, and family, together. Twenty six years later, she's single and he's desperately hoping to rekindle their old love affair, with marriage in mind. But, like Jamie, Logan isn't a man of faith and he's also a well known womanizer who, in fact, cheated on Caitlyn all those years ago.

Their story line is woven throughout the entire novel, and I was definitely intrigued by where their relationship was headed. No conclusion is reached by the end of this book, but I think that's a unique idea; to have a secondary couple's relationship gradually unfold without having to rush things-plus it leaves a bit of a cliff hanger that makes you want to see what will happen next!

As always, Julie Lessman writes with wit, style, passion, and a unique flair for angsty/twisty/dramatically rich plotting that involves the reader in the world she's created, right up till the very last page. I definitely look forward to seeing what she has up her sleeve next for those McClare cousins she's introduces us to, and also the continuing saga of Logan and Caitlyn. All in all, a great start to The Heart of San Fransisco Series!

"Available April 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group."

Thanks to Revell Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Marriage of your dreams: A woman's guide to understanding her man by Rick Johnson

Men are fairly simple creatures with fairly simple needs. Yet women often find themselves frustrated trying to understand those needs in order to improve their marriages. Many wonder, "What does he expect from me? I'm doing everything the best I can. Doesn't he know I'm at the end of my rope here?" Relationship expert Rick Johnson ends the guessing game, giving women an open and honest look inside the world of a man's needs and helping them understand how best to use their influence to have a satisfying and exciting relationship.Rick delves into the not-so-mysterious-after-all world of a man, highlighting his need for respect and admiration, his sexual desires, his communication style, his work, his emotions, and even his relationship with the "other woman"--his mother. Women will appreciate Rick's candor, humor, and insight as they discover that the marriage of their dreams is closer than they ever thought it could be.

I've read a fair amount of relationship books and thought this one was a nicely paced, easy to understand, and generally accessible, addition  to the self-help genre.

I liked the length-just over 200 pages-because too much wordiness or over explanation of key points, tends to frustrate my attention span. Mr. Johnson has an engaging, straightforward, way of expressing himself but still manages to keep a sense of humor throughout. While he doesn't go into inappropriate detail about  certain subjects like sex, he also doesn't shy away from answering some of those burning questions women have always wanted to know about guys:

his need for respect and admiration
his sexual desires
his communication style
his work
his emotions
his relationship with the "other woman" in his life (his mother)

Being able to get an  honest "inside" perspective on what men think and feel is a valuable asset to any relationship, and I appreciated the observations shared. The question and answer sections at the end of each chapter were also great, as what was asked seemed to be what most women  usually want to know.

As I said, this book isn't super long and I was able to finish it in one sitting, so if you're looking for a quick, yet insightful read, The Marriage of Your Dreams should be right up your alley.

"Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Publishers in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Love Surrendered by Julie Lessman

Orphaned in Iowa, Annie Kennedy moves to Boston to stay with her spinster aunt. She longs for romance to fill the void left by her parents' death. But when she falls hard for Steven O'Connor, the man who broke an engagement to her sister, Annie is worried. Will he break her heart too when he discovers who she really is?With heart-pounding romance, intense family drama, and emotional twists and turns, A Love Surrendered is everything Julie Lessman's many fans have been waiting for.

A Love Surrendered is book three in the Winds of Change Series, and you definitely don't want to read it out of order or you just might be scratching your head over who's who and what's what in the O'Connor clan.

If you have read the previous 5 books-the first three being part of The Daughter's of Boston series about the same family- then you'll know that this one's about Steven, the youngest son.

If I'm already confusing you, it's because this is one big group of Irish/Catholic relatives we're talking about. (And, not to worry, plenty of that infamous passion/temper to go with it.)

As A Love Surrendered starts, we're introduced to Susannah, who prefers to be called Annie, and more than anything wants to land her first kiss. So with the encouragement of her friend, Peggy, she sneaks out at night hoping to meet a cute guy, up for some canoodling.

Well, she does meet a handsome man, but not in the way she planned and, needless to say, the circumstances leave her kinda mortified. Because Steven O'Connor, straight laced lawman, thinks of her as nothing but a naive, brainless, "kid" in need of saving from herself. Not exactly the image she's looking to cultivate as a mature, kissable, woman of the world.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their lack luster first encounter, Annie is determined to make Steven see her as more than a child, because his "brotherly" instincts to protect her from those who would take advantage, initially irritate her. Since Annie is only seventeen and Steven twenty five, he tells himself she's too young for him-plus he already holds enough guilt over the ruined innocence of a girl from his past. He can't stand to think the same could happen to the sweet Annie, so he distances himself. But he can't seem to shake her from his thoughts, even though he knows he's only asking for trouble by even contemplating a relationship...

Whew, what a finale to the whirlwind O'Connor saga! After six books of them, it's hard not to feel as if you're family, and Julie does an incredible job of seamlessly involving us in the stories of each of their lives. I so love the continued updates we receive on other siblings who we've previously read about, and how they are handling relationships, kids, marriages, work, etc. rather than just ending at the typical "happily ever after."

In terms of Steven and Annie's saga, it definitely kept my attention throughout-maybe a little too well at times. At one point near the end, I dropped my book on the floor after a major spoiler occurred and said, "You've got to be kidding me, Julie!" (I won't tell you if she was or not.) But, yes, I was angry, tense, and in shock for a full minute at least before I could continue on. And weirdly enough, that's a good thing because I LOVE an angsty read, despite near constant worry for my poor, sky rocketing, blood pressure.

I so didn't see that particular twist coming, along with several other ones, so kudos for some great plot planning!  I would have liked to see more of Steven and Annie's dating/relationship moments, as I felt like I didn't get quite as deep of an overall connection between the two of them as I was hoping for. I suppose, a few trivial, "down time," fun, couple interactions may have been what I missed to completely cement their feelings for each other in my mind. For me, it seemed as if most of their scenes together were tense/emotionally draining, and I definitely love some good tension, but appreciate the softer, romantic, stuff to balance it all out as well.

I'll admit, I was sad to pick up this book knowing it was the beginning of the end, but I couldn't resist because Julie is really a phenomenal writer who I can always tell  puts her heart and soul into every page she types. That passion comes across vividly in each character, phrase, setting, and detail-straight down to the smell of chili mac simmering on Marcy's kitchen stove. She immerses her readers in a world so realistically drawn, that you emerge back into real life reluctantly, not wanting to leave behind your book friends mid conversation.

I can't say enough about how blessed, uplifted, entertained, challenged, and honored I've been to share in the O'Connors' journey from Faith all the way to Steven. I feel as if I've come to know and care about each of them intimately which is a gift I'll forever cherish. And, you better believe, I'll be re-reading these classics in the future, and passing them down to my kids one day.

If you want a series that's passionate about relationships-both spiritual and emotional-then these are the books for you.

P.S. Just to help you out, I'm including the reading order and a link to each book:

The Daughters of Boston

-A Passion Most Pure

-A Passion Redeemed

-A Passion Denied

The Winds of Change

-A Hope Undaunted

-A Heart Revealed

-A Love Surrendered

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Publishers in exchange for my honest opinion.

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