Author: Julia London
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: Amazon
Type: Novel in Trilogy
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Emma Tyler’s cool exterior and penchant for sarcasm keep most people from getting too close…and an unusual compulsion drives her to steal from the few men who do. When her trophy-collecting habit goes too far, she quits her ritzy event-planning job in Los Angeles and runs away to Pine River, hiding with her estranged half-sisters at Homecoming Ranch and caring for Leo Kendrick, her ailing friend.
Thrillseekers Anonymous founder Cooper Jessup has his hands full with work and his brother’s looming prison release date. But when a client asks him to track down Emma Tyler to retrieve a stolen memento, Cooper can’t turn down the money…or the chance to see the beautiful Emma again.
When Cooper comes to collect the item, Emma refuses to admit the horrible truth. This handsome man may see right through her steely veneer, but can he get close enough to show her how love and honesty can heal a troubled heart?
Review: I love Julia London’s historical novels, and this contemporary novel was just as complex, lush and delightful as any of those. In fact, I’d say she outdid herself with this novel of an awkward woman confronting her past and her issues, a family rebuilding itself, and an entire town losing a beloved icon. This story is filled with so much it’s hard to take it apart and examine it bit by bit, but I’ll give it a try.
Emma Tyler–God, you’ve got to love her. She was born without a filter. Whatever she thinks just flies out of her mouth on puffs of black smoke. Don’t EVER ask that girl if you look pretty in something or if she thinks you look fat because she will tell you. She can’t help it. And all she’s ever heard her whole life from her parents and the people around her is “that’s not cute,” and “brass tacks is all that fall out of that mouth.” She’s been told that it’s a severe character fault and that there’s something wrong with her. And life has proven this correct–so much so that she believes that her flaws are so fatal that no one will ever love her. Her ne’er-do-well father Grant abandoned the family not once but twice. Her mother remarried but then found her new stepdaughter Laura much more delightful and spoke openly about it. Grant reappeared her seventeenth year and took her to spend the summer with him in Vegas, but then ignored her for her stepsister Laura, whom he’d also invited. Her life has been a series of the most important people in her life–people who should have given her unconditional love–choosing others over her.
So is it any surprise that her behavior as an adult is less than perfect? She looks for father figures in older men that will choose HER. If only for a fleeting moment–and then she leaves them. Her M.O. is to find people she doesn’t care about because she’s convinced that once they realize how awful she truly is they will leave her. Unfortunately, this reactive behavior only reinforces the damage that she owns deep inside. And the person she continues to disappoint MOST is herself. Not believing she’s capable, she’s given up any dreams of a family and children of her own, but being at home makes her wonder if she was too hasty. She’s an expert in keeping people away, but how do you make someone want to stay?
Cooper Jessup knows about being with people who run away from love. His brother Derek is a prime example. Serving time in Huntsville, Texas for armed robbery, Derek has always had the capacity to be a good person but could never seem to be disciplined enough to try. So Cooper had always been left holding the bag. Taking care of his father through his cancer. Picking up the pieces for his mom after his father’s death. Taking care of her. Now that Derek was getting out, his mother had dreams of the family getting back together again, but Cooper knew it wasn’t as rosy a forecast as she envisioned. People don’t change. And time in prison wasn’t going to make Derek a better person.
And Cooper hated the correlations he saw between Derek and Emma. Emma was difficult, unusual, hard to handle, but there was something so amazing about her when she would open up and actually let him in that blew him away. But he was afraid that she was like Derek and wouldn’t change. He couldn’t fix that and he didn’t want to try. He’d already learned the hard way that fixing others didn’t work. She had to do it herself. Maybe if she had feelings for him? He’d seen glimpses of a different person underneath the facade she projected to the world–he just had to hope that the person underneath, the one that she could be with him, would come out. That that person was the real Emma. Was he willing to risk his heart on it?
Julia London has created a community in Pine River that resonates on the pages of this novel in a unique and heartfelt way. Tears and laughter flowed as I read this novel, and I loved each and every page. I was frustrated, beguiled, sad, excited and happy for the characters as they developed and grew through the story line. Early writers could use this novel as a primer for how to make a town a character in the book, how to build a relationship between two characters, and how to wrench the reader’s heart while making it happy at the same time. Kudos Ms. London!