Friday, June 8, 2012

Jean Brashear’s MacAllisters (and Montalvos)

The Healer (2003) was the first book I ever read by Jean Brashear.  I loved the story of Caroline Malone, a gifted cardiac surgeon who may have lost the ability to do the work that defines her, and Diego Montalvo, a former military medic recovering from physical and psychic wounds he carried away from his time in Bosnia. And I loved Diego’s grandmother, Mama Lalita—her wisdom, her compassion, her healing powers as a curandero. The Healer became a keeper for me, and I glommed Jean’s backlist (not a long one at that point) and kept an eye out for new titles with her name attached. I soon learned that in a Brashear book I could count on characters whom I found fully engaging and a story that packed a big emotional punch. And as I read the other books in What the Heart Knows series (The Healer is Book #2), I became more and more attached to the Montalvo/MacAllister family. Imagine my delight then when I learned last year that more MacAllister books would be released in 2012.

A Texas Chance (February 2012), the first book in the new series, is the story of Cade MacAllister, an adventure photographer who has spent twenty years wandering the world and taking photographs of some of its most beautiful and inaccessible spots, and hotelier Sophie Carlisle. Cade returns home after an accident on a shoot leaves his friend dead and Cade critically injured. He is also burdened with guilt so severe that he has lost his passion for photography. He loves his family, but he finds their anxious hovering unbearable. When he escapes to his sister Jenna’s home in Austin, she asks him to help her friend Sophie by giving her some of his photographs. Cade fears Sophie is taking advantage of his kid sister’s big heart, but when he meets the hotelier, he is captivated by her fierce independence. Helping her not just with photographs but with free labor on the hundred and fifty-year-old house she is working to turn into Hotel Serenity fills in empty hours, and if she makes him think of more pleasant ways to fill those hours, he’s not admitting that to anyone else.   

Sophie Carlisle is used to depending only on herself. Orphaned at fifteen, left alone again after the death of her husband and three-year-old daughter in an automobile accident, she has built a life devoted to her work, allowing only a very few friends into her inner world. When a betrayal ends her fifteen-year career with a hotel chain, she sinks everything she has into creating Hotel Serenity, a five-star hotel that offers every convenience and the comfort and security of home to the wealthy and famous in search of privacy and the unique. Cade MacAllister’s photographs would be perfect for her hotel even though she’s determined not to accept charity. But soon Cade has infiltrated her life, threatening the barriers she’s put in place. How can this man make her feel safe when all her instincts tell her he’s a danger she can’t allow in her life and in her heart.

Wounded characters in need of healing and fighting it every step of the way are Brashear’s specialty. I loved the reluctant vulnerabilities of Cade and Sophie, and I loved seeing them achieve their HEA. Catching glimpses of all Cade’s extended family as they come together to help Sophie and her reaction to the big, loving family made this book even more special.

On His Honor (April 2012), the second of the new books, has a strong romantic suspense element, as do a number of Brashear’s books. Actress Violet James, “America’s Sweetheart” and current co-star of Zane MacAllister (hero of A Real Hero, Book #4, 2004), needs a place to hide and heal when the infidelity of her second husband and her response to it becomes the center of a media frenzy. Her best friend and former actor, Avery Lofton, persuades her that Austin where he is co-owner of the city’s hottest club, Danger Zone, is the perfect spot. Thus, Violet becomes the only guest at Hotel Serenity. After more than two weeks of rest and solitude, Violet is ready for something a bit livelier and accepts an invitation to join a Montalvo/MacAllister celebration. But she’s not prepared for the handsome cop who literally knocks her off her feet at Jenna MacAllisters birthday party.

Detective JD Cameron has spent ten years as a member of the Violent Crimes Task Force (VICTAF), a select interagency group that includes local, state, and federal law enforcement officers. He’s become inured to the evil humans perpetrate upon one another, but even so the sex-trafficking that is the current VICTAF focus fills him with rage and a determination to stop the exploitation of women and children. Avery Lofton and his partner are suspected of being involved in the ring. When JD, an adopted member of the Montalvo/MacAllister clan through his VICTAF association with Vince Coranado (married to the sister of Caroline Malone Montalvo and hero of  The Good Daughter, Book #3, 2003) and Delilah and Jesse Montalvo (Most Wanted, Book #5, 2004), meets Violet Jones at Jenna’s party, he’s already committed to using her to gather information on Lofton. When a chance to become her quasi bodyguard is offered he can’t resist. His instincts tell him she’s not involved in the crimes, but her connection to Lofton is troubling. The more time JD and Violet spend together, the more they enjoy one another and the hotter the sparks between them grow. But Violet is wary of trusting another good-looking charmer, and JD can’t forget he has a job to do.

Violet and JD are an unlikely pair with lifestyles that are worlds apart, but underneath surface differences, they are two people who share a love of family, a fondness for simple things, and sizzling chemistry. Watching them fall for each other and overcome issues of pride and trust is a delight.

The series concludes with A Life Rebuilt (June 2012), the story of Jenna MacAllister, the adored younger sister of Diego and Jesse Montalvo and Cade and Zane MacAllister. Jenna is an effervescent optimist who deserves the nickname her father gives her, Sunshine. Her belief that everyone deserves a chance has led her to Foundations for Families, a nonprofit group that builds houses for families who need helping hands to have their own homes. Leaving one of the houses one night, Jenna is assaulted by a gang member who has trashed the house and stolen copper wire. She is saved from harm by a mysterious man who disappears when the police arrive on the scene.

Roman Gallardo has become a creature of the night. Tormented by all he saw as a member of an Army Special Forces team in Iraq, Roman has become a recluse who runs through the night streets to keep himself in shape and works on restoring the house he grew up in, which has been left to him by his grandmother who died while Roman wandered the country after a chopper crash left him unfit for service and unready for civilian life. Jenna’s innocence and idealism capture Roman’s interest, and he feels reluctant responsibility for a lost boy he meets at the house site. Almost against his will, he finds himself among Jenna’s volunteers. When he saves Jenna a second time, the bond between them strengthens. But Roman can’t believe the darkness that surrounds him can be overcome even by the brightness that is Jenna—until she shows that she’s strong enough to save him as surely as he saved her.

This is the most emotionally rich of the 2012 trilogy. Many readers will feel a personal connection to Roman’s struggles with PTSD, and the novel is filled with characters who show brokenness and courage can co-exist. You may need a handful of Kleenex for the closing chapters, but the epilogue will leave you smiling.

Clearly I’m a fan of the whole series, and I recommend that you read not only the three new books but also the five older books: What the Heart Wants, The Healer, The Good Daughter, A Real Hero, and Most Wanted, all of which are available at a good price for the Kindle and Nook and in Adobe EPUB format direct from Harlequin. However, the three 2012 books can be read independently of the earlier books or even as standalones. If you like unforgettable characters and stories that touch the heart, you’ll like Jean Brashear’s books. If you are as big a fan as I am of family series, you’ll love the Montalvo/MacAllister clan.  I think Jenna’s story is supposed to end the series, but I keep thinking about all those grandchildren. Maybe the Montalvo/MacAllister Family: A New Generation . . .

Are you a fan of family series? Who are your favorite families?


flchen1 said...

Ooh, I've enjoyed some of Jean's stories in the past--thanks for giving us the series overview here for this set--I am not familiar with it, and will be looking forward to catching up! Great review, Janga!

irisheyes said...

I downloaded one of her earlier books, Texas Secrets, a while ago because I remembered you speaking so highly of her. I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Looks like I'll have to bump that one up on the TBR pile and look into purchasing some more.

I love family series. The ones that come immediately to mind are all of Nora's families - MacKades, Concannons, Gallaghers, Quinns, MacGregors, and so on. Then of course there are JQ's Bridgertons and Lisa Kleypas' Hathaways. I love them all and am forever in search of new families to add to my keeper shelf.

Thanks for the review, Janga. I'm positive that re-releases of old out of print categories is a mine field of unexplored jewels. Thanks for always letting us in on the treasure trove.

quantum said...

I have 'The Goddess of fried ocre' on my TBR following earlier recs.
I also downloaded 'So Tempting' which is currently free on Amazon UK, and 'Texas Secrets' which is only £0.75

Doesn't look as though the new series (MacAlisters) is available on kindle UK yet. Hopefully the three I have will allow a good look at Brashear.

I think I prefer small comunities (eg Virgin River) to families though I am a big fan of Catherine Anderson's Families (Kegan-Paxton, Kendrick- Coulter and the Comanche books).
Also families in Kleypas and Lowell.

Actually I think it's the particular authors that I like. Within that sub-set I like pretty well all the families but don't prefer them to the other books.

OK I'm sitting on the fence again! LOL

Very helpful review Janga

Kathleen O said...

I am a lover of a family series.. You get so involved in the stories, that it almost becaomes a part of you...

Janga said...

I hope you enjoy the books, flchen 1. These, along with Coming Home and Forgiveness are my favorite Brashear categories. Of course, I love her single-title The Goddess of Fried Okra.

Janga said...

Irish, let me know what you think of Texas Secrets.

I love Nora's families too--all those you mention plus the Stanislaskis and the O'Hurleys. Given that they keep being reissued, readers must agree with us that they hold up very well.

Janga said...

Q, even with in the community-centered series such as Carr's Virgin River books, there are usually families. I love Carr's Riordan's, for example, and I'd argue that Jack, Preacher, and Mike are "family" to one another. :)

Janga said...

Kathleen, I agree. I think that's why the family series are among my favorite books to reread.