Sunday, April 15, 2018

Face the Flames (Jo Davis)

Face the Flames
A Sugarland Blue novel, Book 6
Jo Davis
Fiction, Romance
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Clay Montana was one of the last bachelors among the Sugarland firefighters, and had no reason to change his lifestyle... until a devastating wreck stole a year from the paramedic's life. Faced with his own mortality through his long rehabilitation, he starts wondering if maybe it's time to think in the long term and settle down - and the newest cop in town just may be the woman to leash him.
Melissa Ryan may be the new girl on the squad, but she grew up in Sugarland... on the other side of the law. Her uncle Jack runs a moonshine ring out of an armed and barricaded compound in the hills, and numerous federal agents have tried (and failed) to bring down his criminal enterprise. She's come back to town in hopes of doing what no other law enforcement officer has managed: shutting down the Jack Ryan operation once and for all. And nobody - not her uncle's thugs, not her bosses or co-workers, and especially not a hot new boyfriend - is going to stop her.

REVIEW: I've been dealing with a head cold, so I figured I'd read something light. At first, this looked like a typical romance, with the slight twist of the firefighter male lead struggling to regain his independence and job after a massive trauma and having to rely a little more on the lady love interest than in some titles. The formula was a little naked (as were the characters, often), but that needn't be an issue. Unfortunately, it was, and it became more of one the longer I read.
Not a single element of this story does not come straight from the cookie cutter drawer of mass market romance series. Every character is described in terms that have been used, almost verbatim, by countless writers before, playing out forced roles. Lady cop Melissa even has the time and money to run a large spread of property complete with three horses; even allowing for the inheritance factor, just when would a cop with a single-minded mission to bring down an untouchable family crime ring find the time to ride and maintain three horses, and how does a cop's salary stretch that far? Clay and Melissa's interactions are riddled with unnatural dialog that spells everything out; they explain things they already know to each other enough times I half-expected them to nickname each other "Bob" (as in "As you know, Bob..."). The other firefighters and cops are a jumble of names - all of them in various relationships that quite clearly were the subjects of previous Sugarland novels, and all of them tending to be generic support staff for the leads. Clay's injuries cease to become a significant plot factor round about the halfway mark, turning him into just another male romance lead. Nefarious Jack Ryan and his goons are cardboard villains, often doing unnecessarily risky and stupid things just because the plot required them to; their brutality becomes muted as a result, seeming more cartoonish than ghoulish. Plot points stand out like shiny tacks on the string of the storyline, which makes numerous graphic trips to the bedroom... trips that, like the rest of the tale, feel bland and composed of snap-together, generic romance language parts, adding little to the characters or the arc. (Of all the scenes to find boring, especially in a romance title, the sex scenes should not be them, but boring they quickly became.) By the end, I was almost snickering to myself as I played Romance Bingo in my head, ticking off worn-out lines and generic descriptors. That's why it ultimately sank below the flat Okay rating I almost gave it.

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