Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lisa'a Book of the Week: First Class Series by AJ Harmon

This week's selection is not a single book but an entire series.  It is the series that first brought me into the Indie book world and it is the series that I keep returning to.  It is the First Class series by AJ Harmon. 

The First Class series, for me, is the perfect contemporary romance series.  AJ has captured the imagination of women everywhere with the Lathem brothers and the women they fall in love with.  These women are not the skinny, model perfect type that we find so difficult to relate to.  Instead they are everyday women, with the same issues, insecurities and desires as us readers.  This is why AJ has captured the imagination of so many women with this series.  Her writing sucks you in and keeps hold of you long after you have finished the book.  After reading hundreds of books since, I still think about the Lathems and their stories.  A sign of an author who understands her readers and what makes us tick.  Time and time again in this series, AJ delivers a first class story. 

First Class to New York 

Being the first in the series, this will always probably remain my absolute favourite, along with First Class to Portland.  Each book has its own special place in my heart for different reasons.  So why is it my favourite of all?  Two words: Matt Lathem.  He is the hottest of the brothers, in my opinion, and he is type of man a fair few of us would want ourselves. 

Janie's life is set to change when she decides to take a trip to New York.  It is a trip she has always wanted to do but the time was never right.  She has to be pushed into taking the trip  by her twin grown-up sons and her best friend.  After losing her husband, Janie thought that she wouldn't find anyone else.  She literally runs into Matt Lathem at the airport twice and ends up next to him on the plane. 

Janie has a lot of insecurities (most of us can relate) to work through.  At 42 and slightly chubby (her word), she doesn't feel that anyone could ever find her attractive enough to want and love her.  Well, Matt certainly finds her attractive but while he is confident and successful, he is dealing with his own insecurities around women.  Some of the things he finds out about Janie scares him and makes him run for the hills.   
As Janie is only in New York for two weeks, it seems as though at the end of that time that the relationship will end.  I know that AJ has got some stick from some quarters about ending New York on a cliff hanger - no HEA.  But think about this.  Life doesn't always work like that - sometimes your HEA comes quickly but more often than not, it is not straightforward and relationships take time and work.  So with New York and Portland, she has given us a story that is much more realistic and that the reader can relate to.  It wouldn't have worked if AJ had wrapped the story up in a nice pretty red bow at the end of New York. 

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First Class to Portland 

Continuing with Matt and Janie's story as they are now in separate cities.  Both are miserable apart from each other but neither will seemingly make the first move.  It takes a lot of soul searching and to be hit around the head with the obvious for Matt to realise that Janie is his true love.  Once he realises this, Janie doesn't stand a chance!!! Matt makes changes in his life that demonstrate the changes in his priorities. 

This is in a way the start of Mark and Katy's story, as the brutal attack at the end Portland starts there journey off.  Lets be clear though that Mark has met his match with Katy, in terms of the way she speaks her mind, is highly independent and confident. 

The beauty of this story is that it demonstrates that relationships don't just happen by themselves - something that a lot of other books in this genre peddle.  They take work and they take a lot of open and honest communication.  They take simple gestures to show the importance of that person in your life and that money cannot buy you true love and happiness.  Janie falls in love with the man not the money. 

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First Class Justice 

After the brutal attack at the end of Portland, Katy sets about putting back the pieces of her life back together.  Mark, being her rescuer, is supporting Katy through the ordeal of the trial still to come.  Both are drawn to each but both think that the other couldn't be possibly be interested.  Katy feels that Mark sees her as damaged goods.  He saw her at her worst when he saved her.  Why would he possibly want anything more than friendship with her after that?  Mark feels that she is hurting and needs to time and that her experience must have put off relationships forever.  

However they keep being drawn to each other and are there when the other needs someone.  In this case, the story focuses on finding love after a traumatic experience.  Mark has seen Katy at her worst but yet is drawn to the courage that she shows.  Their story still has a way to run to get that HEA that we all want but with a little push they are on the right road! 

One thing that all the Lathem brothers have in common is that it may take them a little while for them to realise what their hearts want but when they do, they go all out to get it. 

Katy's story is not all peaches and cream and means that for her commitment is a very scary thing.  While she loves Mark, anything more needs to happen at her own pace. 

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First Class Voyage 

This is the first time we get the full experience of the Lathem family altogether, warts and all!!  And boy, if you're not ready for it then they will just blow you away.  One thing is apparent, as the whole family goes on a cruise, is that they are a close knit family with Maureen and Peter leading the way.   
Maureen wants the best for her boys and is delighted with both Janie and Katy.  However her desire for Katy and Mark to marry makes Katy feel second best.  Maureen has a hard lesson to learn here.  Maureen revels in her family and is immensely proud of them but if you're not ready for her, she can be a little bit much to take.  To understand her motives (not necessarily agree with what she does or says), you have to remember that first and foremost her priorities are her son's happiness, without realising that their idea of happiness may not match up with hers. 

This is the first proper introduction we get to the rest of the Lathem brothers and to see how they all interact together but this is also the start of Paul and Nic's story.  With each of the brothers different in their own way, Paul is a Navy Seal and is somewhat quieter and more introspective than Matt and Mark. 

For me, the importance of not just maintaining the relationship with your loved one but maintaining that relationship with your family comes through strongly. 

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First Class Hero 

Paul is at a crossroads in his life, after serving as Navy Seal for the past eleven years.  He wants to be able to find someone who he can settle down with and be happy with as his brothers Matt and Mark have.  He won't make that commitment though while he is still serving, knowing that he doesn't want them to spend their time worrying about whether he will make it home in one piece or at all.  When he met Nic on the cruise, he started to see his life with someone special in it. 

Nic is anti-Navy men, convinced by her mother that they will just love you and leave you, she has spent her adult life avoiding contact with them.  Nic is a kindergarten teacher who lost her job and is working as a bar tender while she finds a job in the field she loves.  Chance brought her into Paul's path on the cruise and chance keeps bringing him into her life and under her skin. 

Nic and Paul's relationship is built on friendship first and foremost as they spend their time getting to know each other.  Most of this done through emails while he is still serving.  Both have a lot of insecurities to work their through. 

Maureen at her best shines through in this book.  On the recruiting panel for her local school, she is responsible for bringing Nic to New York to teach.  She single handedly sets out to make Nic feel at home.  The fact that Nic and Paul end up together is just the icing on the cake!! 

The difficulties of having a relationship as a serving officer and being the one left at home comes through strongly.  I think what makes this story so beautiful is the fact that their relationship started off as friendship before developing into something more.   

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First Class Menu 

David Lathem is successful in his right, choosing to run an Art Gallery where he can focus his artistic side.  A painter himself, he expresses himself through his art.  His only flaw is that he can't cook, not even toast!  Lindsey, on the other hand is, a highly successful chef who manages a number of high quality restaurants in the city.  Lindsey encourages David to take cooking lessons and is drawn to look after his dietary needs when she finds out that he can't cook. 

It takes David a while to start taking cooking lessons but he does follow through, although not in Lindsey's class.  Well not to start with.  Lindsey takes over the class mid way through the course.  As they get drawn to each other more and more, misunderstandings and miscommunications get in their way.   

Lindsey falls in love with his art and with the man.  He pours himself and the emotions he sees into his art that Lindsey sees his heart.  With some private cooking lessons to try and show her feelings, Lindsey is disappointed that he doesn't appear to feel the same way.  It takes the thought of losing her for him to realise his true feelings and to find the way to her heart through cooking. 

Both Lindsey and David are very good are expressing themselves through their passions of food and art but when it comes to matters of the heart, they find it much more difficult.  This is something that I think most of us can relate to, in that we find it difficult to express our true feelings for fear of getting hurt.  Sometimes it is about taking that risk and sometimes it is worth taking it.  Love shouldn't and doesn't come easily.  It should be worked on and nurtured, and taking that risk is just the first step.

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First Class Rescue 

Tim is one of New York's finest, risking his life as a firefighter.  Beth is an editor, who works mostly from home with her dog, Cleo.  Beth and Cleo are rescued by Tim after a fire breaks out in her apartment building.   

It is Cleo that keeps bringing Beth and Tim together and helping to develop the feelings they have for each other.  Unfortunately, the pressure from Beth's family to marry into a rich family has the potential to drive them apart.  Yes Beth is unaware that he is part of the Lathem family.  While she moved away to New York to escape this pressure and to live her life as she wants to, but it still niggles away at her. 

When she attends a benefit dinner with the type of man her family wants to see her with (who turns out to be a complete prick by the way), Tim is presenting a new project run to support firefighters suffering from PTSD.  It is this that makes Beth see the true Tim Lathem and realise that he is the man she wants despite her family.  This terrifies her. 

Beth and Tim's story is about overcoming prejudices and following your heart.  Money and status is not the be all and end of life.  It produces some nice people, the Lathems, but equally it produces people who think that money entitles them in someway to special treatment.  Tim wins Beth over with the type of man he is, kind, compassionate and puts others first.   

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First Class Stamp 

Ben is the last of the Lathem brothers to fall into the love trap.  He is not looking for love, being happy with the way his life is.  Life has different plans for him when he walks into a store to buy first class stamps for a letter to pen-friend boy he met years ago.  He and the boy's mother, Maria are friends and it was a promise that he made to the boy.   

He forms a quick friendship with Alex, the boy who sells him the stamps.  This brings Ben into contact with Sophia, a fiercely protective woman over her son.  She has just got out of an abusive relationship and is very suspicious of any men.  While Sophia finds it difficult to trust men, there can be no doubt that Ben has built a good relationship with Alex and through this relationship a place in her heart as she slowly lets Ben in. 

Ben's past relationships catch up with him and has the potential to end his fragile relationship with Sophia before it even gets going.  It forces him to think long and hard about what it is that he wants and what he is risking losing with Sophia.  But will Sophia's trust issues put an end to it all or will she see the true Ben? 

Ben and Sophia's story is about the seizing of second chances when they come your way and learning to trust each other for the relationship to work.  Sophia's insecurities and trust issues are well earned and with Ben the whole sharing of his life is a new one that presents new challenges. 

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First Class Farewell 

OMG!!  This is such a beautiful and emotional farewell to current the Lathem clan, with the loss of someone close to them.  AJ tells the first part of the story through the eyes of multiple family members as each learns the news.  I was in tears for pretty much the entire story as they learn of the loss and try to come to terms with it as a family. 

But it the time grief comes happiness for two members of the extended Lathem family.  Adam, who is one of Janie's grown-up sons and Shelby, the girl who Katy brought under her wing after she survived a brutal attack by her step-father.  Shelby sees herself as broken and as never being able to have a proper relationship.  Her fears and insecurities rule her and unsurprisingly so.  In her mind, how can any man look at her as a woman after everything she has been through?  But Adam has been an admirer from afar for a while, hoping that through friendship she may start to see him as something more.  Unfortunately Shelby's fears are so ingrained that she can't see what's right in front of her face. 

Adam decides that life is too short and that he needs to make his move and knowing Shelby so well he does in a gentle way.  Fear causes Shelby to withdraw but when she finds herself being pushed into Adam's company time and time again, Adam slowly breaks down her defenses.  Can she truly let him in though? 

Adam and Shelby's story reminds me, to some extent, of Janie and Matt's story.  For me it has come full circle, but for me Adam has learnt from his mom and Matt.  He is always fully aware of his feelings for Shelby and everything he has done has always been in her best interests.  He has gone after what he wants by being a good friend to start with before indicating that he wants something more.  He will not give up on what he wants. 

While Farewell was full of sadness for the loss of a loved one, it shows that life doesn't stop, with new life created and new love starting out.

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First Class Devotion 
If you buy the collection of all 9 books together, you will get this little gem of a story as a bonus.  It is the story of Maureen and Peter and how they came to be together.  It is written from Maureen's point of view and shows the reader that their story was not all peaches and cream that we may think it is.  They have had to work hard on their relationship to get it to where it is.  They have had to overcome many hurdles along the way.  Some of which are very similar to those of their sons. 

It is a gem of a read that wraps up the Lathems' story perfectly.  I am sad that there will be no more installments but I will be revisiting this series again and again. 

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