Jaci Burton’s Hope series are contemporary romances set in a small town. While I confess that I’m pretty much over this setup, I have liked Ms Burton’s writing for a good long time, so I was all set to like these books regardless. There was, however, a bit of a glitch.
The first one, “Hope Smolders,” is a novella that was originally released as part of the Hot Summer Nights anthology. Because I’m not a fan of any of the other authors there, I didn’t get it. Eventually, as it’s becoming more common, it was released on its own digitally, and at some point after that it I finally bought it.
In the meantime, Hope Flames and Hope Ignites had already made their way into my print TBR, so that when I finally had the first story at my fingertips, I read them in order–last month.
Which means I’m probably cheating by reviewing it for this month’s TBR Challenge *hanging head in shame* Look, people, I’m a bit desperate here, and while I dislike reviewing books in a series out of order, plus I’m actually typing this review on TBR Challenge day…well, let’s just get on with it, shall we?
Hope Ignites, by Jaci Burton
I’m going to start this by stating that it’s very difficult to write a review for a book that you find competent and fairly easy to read, but in which you don’t find anything particularly remarkable. Therefore, please do forgive me if this isn’t as cohesive or as impassioned as other reviews.
This particular story involves the brother of a previous hero, a rancher who is fairly reclusive. Not quite a hermit, but definitely not someone fond of noise, bustle and crowds. Even regular visits to nearby Hope, which is very much a small town (emphasis on small) are a bother he would be quite happy to live without. The female protagonist is an up and coming actress, which would lead both Logan and the reader to assume Desiree is a city girl through and through.
Here’s the blurb from my print copy, and you can read a decently sized excerpt at the author’s website here:
When a movie crew asks to film on his cattle ranch, Logan McCormack doesn’t expect Desiree Jenkins, the young, sought-after star, to be so open, so down-to-earth, or so intimately interested in him. But the last thing a loner like Logan needs is a distraction like Des, who wouldn’t understand what it’s like to live peacefully off the land.
But it’s Logan who doesn’t understand. What Des wants is an escape from paparazzi and gossip columns, and she’s found it at Logan’s ranch. Now it’s up to her to prove that she’s like any other girl looking to be accepted for who she is. And she’s hoping that it’s by this real-life cowboy who has everything it takes—and more—to give her the kind of happily ever after that can’t be found in the movies.
As the novel starts, Logan has agreed to lease part of his land to a production company, and now that the filming is starting, his housekeeper erm, house manager (and long time friend of all the McCormacks) is keen on meeting the actors, particularly Desiree Jenkins, the leading actress. Martha is not only a force to be reckoned with in Logan’s life, she has also been a fan of Des from before she became a movie star.
Bowing to his fate with little grace, Logan visits the set and meets Des, and while there is a spark of attraction on both sides, he shoots it down on the spot. However, and while this first meeting is not particularly auspicious, Des issues an invite to both Logan and Martha to watch a day of filming. Upon further acquaintance, and after a few pointed conversations about expectations versus reality, Logan and Des start an affair.
This being a romance novel, despite their early agreement that this is strictly a “no strings attached” thing, both Des and Logan develop deeper feelings for each other in the course of the book. The main conflict is not very much of a conflict from where I sit–in the sense that some minutes spent talking with each other would have cleared things up. Instead, Logan decides what Des needs, and takes pre-emptive action to save everyone involved some heartache. This results in a separation followed by a last minute grand-ish gesture that felt…well, forced to me.
Nota bene: this is something that I often struggle with when reading Ms Burton’s work. With every book, I feel that within five pages of the end, poof! no more conflict! Which leaves me wondering whether the protagonists actually worked through whatever stood between them, or if it’s going to trip them up for good not too far into the future.
There are a number of things going on here that worked both for and against the novel, from my point of view. In no particular order:
Logan is a little bit of a cliche. We have seen the hermit tendencies already, and there’s more. There is some stuff about mommy issues. See, there was no infidelity, but the moment Logan’s father died, his mother left the ranch for the city so fast there wasn’t even a dust trail to see. Therefore, women cannot be happy in the ranch–particularly if they are young–and since he’s never gonna leave the ranch for the city lights (dog forbid!), that’s that. A smaller issue is that she’s in her mid-twenties while he’s in his mid-thirties, so he feels ‘old’ for her.
For her part, Desire seems so well adjusted, she comes across to me as just slightly too grounded. I would have warmed to her more if she had stumbled a little, had an awkward moment or two, or some actual ‘fault’ (say, not being terribly fond of dogs or some such). Instead, she slides right in with Martha and Logan’s brother and friends, and generally speaking, she’s well liked by everyone she meets. Not one social miss-step throughout the whole novel.
I did like, very much, that Des had no hangups about liking sex. She’s neither promiscuous nor careless, but she also doesn’t spend any time castigating herself over sleeping with Logan, and she doesn’t construct a happily-ever-after dream castle after having sex once.
The novel covers several weeks of filming, allowing the relationship to develop at a reasonable, more believable pace. And yet, because of that last minute “all fixed now” thing, I’m not sure they will have a HEA. (I just checked: in Hope Ignites this happens within the last three pages.)
Colt Stevens, who is Des long time friend and current co-star, is also a closeted gay actor in a long term relationship. By the end of the novel, Colt has decided to come out and let the chips fall where they may. On the one hand, yay for GLBT characters who are more than the funny sidekick! On the other hand, I wondered if he couldn’t have been written exactly as he was–action hero material through and through–and open about his sexuality.
Then there is the married yet lecherous film director, who spends quite a bit of effort trying to corner Des into a sexual encounter. Since Des has been Colt bear more than once, he returns the favor by providing a frequent buffer from this harassment for her. Speaking for myself, I would have liked to have the director focus more on directing. If conflict between him and the actors was necessary, perhaps make him a demanding asshat of a director instead of a philanderer.
We had several characters from the previous stories strolling through the story, and while for the most part they only show up when it actually serves a purpose here, by the end of the book there were a few too many secondary characters to keep track of. Keep in mind, these are not overly long books, less than 300 each.
There was also some pretty evident sequel baiting–there’s the sister of the female lead in Hope Flames, as well as the best friend of the heroine of “Hope Smolders,” and Logan’s two best friends. Mind, it wasn’t terribly inclusive, but it was damned obvious from the beginning. Though perhaps I’m being terribly unfair, and it’s a built-in problem when writing small town series romance: any well fleshed-out, unattached secondary character has to have his/her own novel down the road.
The sexual encounters are well written–and this is never a small feat, by the way. Neither character tried to skip the condoms, horny or not, or automatically believed protestations of health on the strength of lust and a handful of days worth of acquaintanceship (is that a word?), so my head didn’t threatened to explode there.
There some honestly funny moments–such as when Logan and Des indulge in a quickie and then spend a few hours pretending nothing happened, only to have it pointed out later that she sports a hickie. Ooopsies, right?
As I said earlier, Hope Ignites is a decent, enjoyable read, but not one aspect was strong enough to carry it completely over the quibbles. After some waffling over it, I’ll go with 6.25 out of 10