WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS INFORMATION THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED SPOILERS.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Small-town mechanic Zachary Drake had no illusions about his longtime friendship with winsome, wholesome Karen McKaslin -- even after she called off her wedding to the local pastor. Zach simply intended to lend a grease-stained hand and a sympathetic ear to a pal in need, and keep his secret longing to himself...
Having narrowly escaped a loveless marriage, Karen was counting her blessings. Now she could transform herself into a woman worthy of being loved for all eternity. She never dreamed Mr. Right was waiting for her on the wrong side of the tracks, praying she'd see in his eyes what he didn't dare say...
Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Steeple Hill Books, 2002.
How acquired: Bought.
My thoughts: Despite the fact that I list Jillian Hart as one of my favorite category romance authors, her books are usually hit or miss for me. Of the McKaslin Clan series, I've read two previously, BLIND-DATE BRIDE, which I could barely finish, and SWEET BLESSINGS, which is one of my all time top ten favorite books – and the reason I keep reading her. (Seriously, for a wonderful character study of a broken man, you need to read it.) So when I realized this book was the first McKaslin Clan book, I dove in, and am happy to report that it was a hit.
I loved the characters, especially Zach, and I loved the continual banter between Zach and Karen, which Ms. Hart does very well. When the book opens Karen has broken off an engagement to Jay when she realizes he isn't marrying her out of love. Her parents are upset and disappointed, her mother, who is pushing her to get back together with Jay. I almost wished there had been more about Karen and Jay and what led up to her realizing she couldn't marry him, and more conflict between Karen and her parents over that broken engagement, just to add more depth. Zach's mother was a drunk who spent all her time in bars while Zach took care of his younger siblings and often went hungry, and when she showed up on his doorstep, I expected a predictable subplot about Zach, who is filled with hate for his mother, coming to terms with her alcohol addiction and learning to forgive her. So I was quite surprised when he gave her some money and put her on a bus out of town, telling her not to come back. And I was glad that story arc carried out the way it did, which to me was very realistic.
My only issue with the story, and it's a minor one but it's also a pet peeve of mine, is that Zach winked way too often. At one point he winked at Karen three times in two pages. And then on the next page Gramma winked. But after that either the winking dropped off, or I was too caught up in the story to note it.
A sweet story about two people from the same small town but with very different backgrounds, coming to terms with what they want in a partner and more importantly, realizing that they deserve to be with the one they love regardless of backgrounds or what anyone else in town thinks. I laughed out loud several times, and I cried a couple of times.