Thursday, January 28, 2021

Review - Dare to Love Again

Original Title: Dare to Love Again
Series: The Heart of San Francisco, #2
Author: Julie Lessman
Published: January 7th, 2014

Publisher: Revell


This is a great book. Honestly, I really liked it. It’s definitely better than the first one in the series, and although it’s not perfect, there were moments in which I found myself giggling, and fangirling, and I think that speaks volumes (especially when I read that the next instalment will be focused on Meg and Bram’s relationship).

I truly grew fond of the characters in this one, as they are alive and feel totally human, with both virtues and flaws, and overall, the complexity of real life, with its comings, goings, ups and downs. This is especially visible with the female characters, as all of them are strong, and not to be messed with, from Caitlyn McClare herself, in her position of power, to the humble Miss Penny, who takes care of the orphans by sheltering and feeding them, as well as with a shotgun in her hands. It’s really well done.

Allison McClare –Cassie’s cousin from the previous book– is the heroine in this one. I loved her, and more than once I felt that I could have been friends with her, to the point in which, by the second half of the book, she gets her heart broken once again and is crying her eyes out, and I just wanted to hug her, and comfort her. The best about her was that I had been promised a spunky, courageous heroine, and that is what I got, unlike in the first book in the series, in which the heroine, apparently, was like that, and I ended up disappointed with her constant weepiness, instead of her doing what she said she would (such as hog-tying Jamie like cattle, for being a jerk). Although it bothers me that Allison managed to fall in love no less than four times, and didn’t seem to have learned anything from past pain, she’s still a great character. I loved her attitude, her courage, and her determination to demand respect from people, and to be independent in order to find her own self in the world (which, back in the early 20th century, was a big deal for any woman). I mean, this girl wants to learn martial arts, for God’s sake! That is too cool. It sets her apart from any other character I’ve read in historical fiction. Bravo, Julie Lessman!

Plus, when she sets her mind to something, nothing can dissuade her. I liked that strong will, and her passion about teaching the girls in the school everything she wishes she had learned as a child. She has this fire inside that makes her an active person, that she translates into every task she takes over, and although she falls in love, Nicholas doesn’t become her whole world, to the point that she forgets about everything else (which is more than I can say from many other characters I’ve read). Although sometimes she can act like a spoiled little brat, and it’s annoying, I think it adds to her character, because we are reading about a woman who was raised in a privileged home (as Nick says, with a silver spoon in her mouth), but through teaching in the city’s red district, she gets to know a different way of life, and different people, who dwell in a world so unlike her own. So, the book is her transition from rich, naïve girl, to strong, independent woman. And it is really well done.

As for Nicholas Barone, the hero, I really liked him. His enemies-to-lovers relationship with Allison was a lot of fun to read, thanks to the name calling, and the stick whacking, that made sparks fly between them. It’s really beautiful how he slowly starts letting go of his bitterness and pain, after having lost everything and everyone he cared about, in a mysterious past that only he knows about. However, although most of the time he’s a big, old grump, with a strong temper, he’s also snuggly as a teddy bear, with a heart of gold that moves him to be the sweetest of men with the girls in Miss Penny’s orphanage. And I liked how the author was able to write both sides to the character in perfect balance, deepening his complexity, because, on the one hand, it’s understandable why he and Alli clash all the time, but at the same time, his moments with Lottie are incredibly heart-warming, and a pleasure to read.

After he was shot by the mobster’s henchmen, I truly felt worried, I just wanted the author to stop talking about Alli and the McClares, and go back to him, to tell me what had happened after everything went black. But when he comes back, the explanations about his true identity felt a little rushed. I mean, after we are left wondering whether he he’s dead or alive, he suddenly returns and spits out everything he didn’t say in a book that is over 400 pages long, in the span of only a few of them. I do understand he’s meant to be this shady person, with a lot of things to hide, but the revelations felt a little too rushed for my taste. It bothered me that he expected Alli to do as if nothing had happened, after breaking her heart and making her suffer for three months, but I liked that her attitude towards him wasn’t like he had never left. She always demands respect, and it wasn’t different with him.

Also, I felt it was very convenient that when he comes back, he has inherited his uncle’s fortune, and he’s no longer a penniless cop from the wrong side of the tracks, but a rich detective that now can marry an equally wealthy lady. It felt a little too miraculous and sudden, after he spent the whole book in poverty. But I can overlook it, because the character development was really well written.

The only thing I wasn’t totally happy about, was the constant reference to Nick’s stomach distress. I get it, the guy has ulcers and acid reflex, and his breath smells like animal crackers. Stop saying it.

Oh, and I absolutely loved the scene in which Alli uses her jiu-jitsu skills, in the dark alleys of the Barbary Coast. It was kind of oddly satisfying to read about her knocking down the thug that was holding her, and escape. You don’t see this too often in a historical fiction book set during the Belle Époque, and involving aristocrat ladies. The only thing I felt was missing, was Alli’s reaction upon finding out that Logan had secretly hired Nick to be her bodyguard, and follow her without her noticing him. She would have hated that; after all, what she sought was self-reliance, and the opportunity to fend for herself.

As for Logan and Cait’s relationship, I liked it, but also found it a little tiring, with so many comings and goings, as for them, one step forward means three steps backwards. Don’t get me wrong, though. Theirs is a realistic portrayal of a deep, complex relationship, built in the background of the book’s main plot, and I really liked how Julie Lessman wrote it, to show us that the characters have many layers and different aspects in their lives that demand their attention. Even though their story drips passion, because they never truly got over each other, in despite of their mistakes and lies, in this one, Logan understood that when Cait says no, it’s no. He now has a deeper respect for her, and lets her have the final word when it comes to their courting, which he should have done in the previous book, back when he forced a kiss on her.

In this trilogy, family is a strong point. However, at certain point I felt there were too many scenes with the family gathered together, playing cards or billiard, and mostly talking about random things that did not help to further the plot. I have nothing against such scenes, they were happy, heart-warming moments that help us see the family going through both good and bad moments, but some things were just too much. Also, the last quarter of the book has so much crying! Everyone is brokenhearted, and tears flow like waterfalls every time Alli or Cait are in a scene. But Julie Lessman managed to make it painful for the reader too, because you are able understand the character’s sorrow as you go on.

Now, about things that I didn’t like, or felt that were too much, I have to mention the scene with Maddie’s sudden disappearance. Even though everyone’s worry is really well done, and you can truly feel their raw despair, I felt that the whole thing could have been cut from the book, and the plot wouldn’t have been disrupted. I know it is meant to bring Logan closer to God, but it didn’t fully convince me, because after he was relieved that she was ok, the book says nothing more about him having a stronger faith, or anything of the sort.

Also, I couldn’t help noticing that Alli’s story was very similar to Cass’, in the previous book. Both start their stories fresh from a heartbreak caused by men, they thought, loved them, when in fact they were just a couple of gold-diggers. Both are focused on moving on, determined not fall in love again, and failing miserably at it. Even though their stories and their love interests are different, I couldn’t help noticing that it is basically the same plot (although better done than in Love at Any Cost, starting with a more interesting heroine).

But all in all, I really liked this book, especially because it gave me the chance to visit old San Francisco, and its different areas, like Nob Hill, Chinatown, the Barbary Coast, the cable cars… It’s just great. Clearly, the author did her research, to get the historical facts and the geography, correctly. And she did an awesome job with it.

Thank you so much for stopping by!
See you soon!


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