Shannon Stacey’s romance ethos is a likable one and it’s evident in volume two of her Boston Fire series, Controlled Burn. Her characters aren’t glamorous, super-rich, brilliantly educated, or extraordinary. Boston Fire is set with everyday heroes, their local watering-hole, families and friends. Stacey prefers mature protagonists and Miss Bates likes how the heroes often feel it’s time to settle down, marry, have a family. Controlled Burn‘s hero, Rick Gulloti, is no longer comfortable with his reputation as “not the marrying kind”. Grey’s in his hair and a hint of stiffness in his joints. Otherwise, Rick is content: Ladder 37’s lieutenant, uncle to his two nephews, a good son, and Joe and Marie Broussard’s loving neighbour and friend. Rick rents their upstairs apartment, renovated to his taste and comfort. He helps them out, hangs out, and enjoys Marie’s cooking. The Broussards, however, are aging and less and less able to care for their home, more fragile and prone to hospital stays. One such stay brings heroine Jessica “Jess” Broussard to Boston from San Diego when the hospital contacts her father, Davey, and she intercepts the call. Her father hadn’t shared his parents’ existence with her. They’ve been estranged for years. As a woman running her father’s financial advising firm, Jess is a no nonsense, super-competent woman. She arrives in Boston to meet her newly-discovered grandparents and help them re-settle their lives in an assisted-living community – and runs smack into Mr. Firefighter-Hunk and Joe and Marie’s support and protector.
While it’s easy to like a romance writer’s ethos, not every book will be successful. That’s the case with Controlled Burn, especially when compared to the thoroughly enjoyable first-in-series, Heat Exchange. And just as a romance writer may have a sympatico ethos, she may exhibit similar weaknesses book to book. Stacey’s is a slow and info-dumping start. Both Exchange and Controlled share this shortcoming. But Exchange is the stronger, more emotionally powerful read. Controlled Burn is pleasant enough. Its main problem is a lack of tension and passing, passive resolutions, tension that dies with a whimper and no bang. Even the love scenes are casually pleasant.
Stacey’s Rick and Jess, Joe and Marie, are good people. However, the novel is definitely Jessica’s journey, though it transpires merely with dramatic dandelion fluffs. Jess gets to know and love her grandparents. She confronts truths about her father and his estrangement from his parents. Jess and Rick fall in lust and love thanks to proximity and shared meals. At first, they’re suspicious and even accuse each other of exploiting Joe and Marie. But it’s soon evident neither wishes to take advantage of Joe and Marie. Maybe the problem is they’re nice, reasonable people. Which is lovely in life, but not terribly immersive in romance reading.
Rick and Jess give in to their attraction with the idea their relationship can’t go anywhere as long as the distance between Boston and San Diego stands between them. Yet, Jess is attached to the Broussards and Rick and even enjoys a Bruins game (as a hockey fan, Miss Bates really loved this scene). The romance proceeds matter-of-factly. The Broussards consider changes, Rick and Jess fall in love, maintain a long-distance relationship via texting, phone calls, and video chats, until Jess returns to Boston three months after her initial visit.
Romance writers whinge if the HEA is not present, but Controlled Burn‘s HEA is evident from the get-go. The dark moment when all seems lost, the moment as important to the romance reader as the HEA, the moment that gives the HEA meaning and intensity is absent. Even Jess’s dad, who might have made a good villain, proves himself a reasonable man. “All’s well that ends well” in Stacey’s romance, except there’s not much to what leads to the well-ending. Misses Austen and Bates say that Controlled Burn provided “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Shannon Stacey’s Controlled Burn is published by Carina Press. It was released on December 1st, 2015, and may be purchased in e-format and paper from your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Carina Press for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.