Fooled by a pretty boy twice, shame on me.
Jilted by a fortune hunter, cowgirl Cassady McClare is a spunky Texas oil heiress without a fortune who just as soon hogtie a man as look at him … until Jamie MacKenna, a handsome pauper looking to marry well lassoes her heart. But when Jamie discovers the woman he loves is poorer than him, Cassie finds herself bucked by love a second time, sending her back to Texas to lick her wounds and heal her heart. In her absence, Jamie discovers money can’t buy love, but love built on faith can set a heart free, a truth he discovers a little too late … or is it?
Julie Lessman’s O’Connell family is one of the most beloved fictional families on my bookshelf. The complex characters and layered storylines had me perched with anticipation for each new release of The Daughter’s of Boston and The Winds of Change series. I was invested in the outcomes of each storyline and had hopes that the same would be true for Julie’s newest series The Heart of San Francisco. Alas, I did not have the same bonding experience with the characters or the plot. Books are subjective to personal tastes so where I may find fault, others may find enjoyment. As usual, when discussing an author who in the past has failed to disappoint, I encourage readers to draw their own conclusions and discover the book for themselves. I will continue to read Julie’s books and this series in spite of my visceral reaction because when Julie get it right, she is one of my favourite romance authors.
In Love at Any Cost readers are introduced to the McClare clan, a wealthy family residing in San Francisco’s prestigious Knob Hill and among the city’s most politically and socially influential families. Texas native Cassidy McClare may have the pedigree but she is expressively counter-culture when compared to her refined cousins. More comfortable riding the range than twirling at balls, she flees to San Francisco to nurse a broken heart and pursue her dream of teaching in the midst of her family’s projected financial ruination. With her beauty and status, she is the perfect mark for Jamie MacKenna’s arduous social climbing…until the reality of her father’s bank balance is made known to him by an equally opportunistic former love interest.
As with her previous books, Julie emphasizes the importance of family bonds and spiritual awakening. The McClares are a dynamic and fun spirited family that bring this story to life with their sarcastic honesty and loving support. The issues of faith that the main characters grapple with are authentic and emotive, particularly Jamie’s struggle with his sister’s long term disability and desire to see his family rise out of the mire of San Francisco’s red light district. While most of his faith journey occurs off page, there are several poignant scenes in the last quarter of the book that will resonate with readers.
Where this book veers off course is its fixation on physical desire and social stereotypes. Jamie is a contradiction because his passion to champion the downtrodden is negated by his employment of similar tactics to entrap Cassidy. His answer to social and financial advancement is the behaviour that he publicly condemns. He is in denial of his shortcomings and plays the victim card when he is confronted by his closest friends. Instead of the compassionate and attractive hero that Julie intended, he comes across as an arrogant womanizer that calculates and manipulates every moment to his advantage. His wants and needs are given precedence over even those he cares for most. Yes, he wishes to aid his mother and sister, but somehow that excuse conveniently works in his favour as well.
My distrust and instinctual distate towards Jamie was solidified early on when he forced Cassidy into a situation where the line of edginess and sensuality was momentarily breached when he forced her in to a compromising situation. I assume his assertiveness was meant by author to be interpreted as manliness of the highest order but I was repulsed by his actions even if his ploy was to steal a kiss. It made me wonder what would stop Jamie from taking more drastic action and stealing her virtue as well. I enjoy when there is a particular ardour in romance as long as it doesn’t become difficult to differentiate Christian books from mainstream. I want a hero that I can champion, even when he falters. I do not read most secular romances because I am not comfortable with the sensual liberties taken between main characters, even if it does not lead to consummation. For me to enjoy a book I must be challenged at an intellectual and spiritual level that does not use sexual tension as the primary and overt force of conflict in a plot. I love passion and edginess, but I never want to feel like a voyeur. I can not condone actions between characters that I would not permit in my personal life or relationships.
I could not understand why Cassidy felt drawn to Jamie after his disrespectful behaviour and continual disregard for her reputation and emotional well-being. All of Jamie and Cassidy’s subsequent interactions, and those of the sublot between Cassidy’s aunt and uncle, were premised upon the overpowering physical magnetism of the characters and their mutual temptation. This story arc did not engage me on a deeper level and I wish the development of Jamie and Cassidy’s friendship was given more page time so that I could believe that an actual transformation of character was occurring.
Cassidy does draw empathy with her emotional fragility behind the veneer of her feisty cowgirl persona. At first her Texan spunk was endearing and humorous but the overuse of certain vernacular and phrases like “pretty boy” lost their endearment and felt stereotypical. The redundancy made dialogue feel convoluted at times, even when characters were having a heartfelt moment.
This book had much potential but unfortunately it was overshadowed by my prejudice against the Lothario and Annie Oakley personas that the main characters adopted. As aforementioned, I will still look forward to reading the sequel to this series as there is a good story at the heart of this book.