Sometimes the hardest books to review are the ones that are neither all that good or all that bad. That was how Hope Flames was for me. It is difficult to describe my feelings for this read because, although it was an easy read, it wasn’t particularly compelling or exciting.
Burton has moved away from her Play by Play series and sports to writing small town romance. This first book in a new series takes place in the small town of Hope, Oklahoma. Emma Burnett has returned to her hometown to purchase a veterinary clinic after years away for college and working as a vet. She is excited to run her own practice and is ready to jump in feet first. With this new venture, she has no time for dating or romance. Plus, the negative experience of her past, abusive relationship has made her leery to get involved with anyone seriously.
Luke McCormack is working as a police officer in Hope, with the help of his K9 partner, the German Shepard named Boomer. Burned from his divorce, Luke has no interest in women that would tie him down to a serious relationship. He meets Emma when she treats Boomer for a hurt foot. It doesn’t take much convincing for Luke and Emma to fall into a no-strings-attached relationship.
Hope Flames reads quickly and easily, but it was lacking something for me. I am an animal lover so I did enjoy that Luke and Emma were as well. I thought it was cute how Luke’s dog Boomer and Emma’s dogs, Annie and Daisy, were so involved in the character’s lives and interactions. Other than that, I didn’t feel much of a connection with the main characters. Luke was a very stereotypical alpha male lead. I get tired of romance heroes that are described as having meaningless relationships with any woman they want until they meet the heroine. I don’t know if the reader is supposed to find the guy sexy or appealing because he’s sleeping around with every female within reach, but it doesn’t work for me. Emma was just kind of boring. There wasn’t much about these characters that stuck with me after I closed the book.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what about this story didn’t do it for me, I think the primary issue I had was that the writing style was more a list of activities than an emotional journey. Each scene felt like a list of activities. I would’ve liked to spend more time in the character’s heads getting to know their real emotions.
The action in the book centers around a series of break-ins. Emma’s clinic is one of the places hit by a criminal looking for painkillers. Of course, Luke has to step in to catch the bad guy. This storyline disappears for long stretches of time while Emma and Luke get to know one another. I didn’t feel much excitement from this action because I didn’t think it had much of an effect on the story, overall. The plot reminded me so much of Animal Attraction by Jill Shalvis, which also centered around a vet’s office that is broken into for medication. That was actually a much better story and was very sexy, which is surprising from Shalvis. Hope Flames was actually fairly tame compared to Burton’s other novels. I think she excels in writing burning hot romances, so I think that the lack of that excitement was palpable in this new book.
The secondary storyline involves around Emma’s difficulties with her ex-boyfriend. She was involved with her professor in college and the relationship turned emotionally abusive and very controlling. Several years ago, Emma escaped from this relationship and has spent the interim time regaining her self-esteem and making a career for herself. Although I totally understood how such a painful relationship could still affect Emma’s view of love, I didn’t understand why Burton had the ex show back up. It felt very awkward with the rest of the story. In the previous chapter, Luke actually says to her that she doesn’t need to worry about the ex because if he was going to come after her, he would’ve done it immediately after she left, not years later. Then, bam, he shows up to threaten her. From my knowledge of abusive relationships, the abuser is typically furious when the partner leaves them because they have lost control over that person. It would not be unusual for them to go after the person they had been abusing to try and bring them back under their control, either through force or coercion. I would think that if several years had passed, the ex would have found another victim, or he would have come after her immediately.
I consider myself a big fan of Jaci Burton, and her books are on my automatic buy list. However, I was somewhat disappointed by Hope Flames . I think that Burton is capable of writing a much more emotional book than this. I think perhaps she got out of her comfort zone of writing more erotic fiction and the sports books she has been doing for awhile to try a small-town contemporary romance that was more sweet than sexy. While I admire the attempt, and all the dog references, it just didn’t work for me.