Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Publisher: Penguin Group
Genre: Contemporary Romance
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Thirty-two and finally setting up her veterinary practice in the town she once called home, Emma Burnett is on her own and loving it. Independent and driven, she's not letting any man get in the way of her dreams. Not again.
That's fine with Luke McCormack. Divorced and hardly lacking in female company when he needs it, he's devoted to the only faithful companion in his life--his police dog. Still, there's something about Emma he can't shake.
When a series of local break-ins leaves Emma vulnerable, she seeks help from the first man to spark her desire in years. And now they're giving each other something they thought they'd lost forever...hope.
This time last year, I began reading Jaci Burton's Play by Play series, which for the most part I really liked. I also recently read and enjoyed her Christmas series with the Kent Brothers. When I saw that she was going to be starting a new series, I pre-ordered the first book. When it arrived, I was eager to start reading it. Since I was already comfortable with Burton's writing style, I settled in fairly quickly. Unfortunately, as I was reading, something felt missing, which is why I gave this book 3 stars rather than four.
In the story, you have two likable characters - Luke (the hero) and Emma (the heroine). One thing they have in common is their love of animals, especially dogs. Luke is a cop with a canine partner and Emma is a vet. As with many romance novels, both of the main characters come with emotional baggage. Readers learn fairly early that Luke experienced a terrible first marriage. It takes longer to discover Emma's past, though it is easy to guess at some of it. As a result, they are both hesitant to get involved in a relationship again. This is fairly standard fare for a romance story and something that usually Burton delivers on pretty well. Unfortunately, there seems to be something missing with the romance in Hope Flames. I wonder if the characters' indecision on the whole relationship thing put a little fizzle on the passion for me?! The whole "we are not in a relationship" thing, when they are obviously in a relationship became slightly grating and, though I can see that it was supposed to be part of the build-up and conflict, it was mostly frustrating.
One of my issues is that it took 60% of the book for Burton to reveal what Emma's issue was with men. Not that I hadn't suspected it, but it felt dragged it out. I suspect that was a plan to keep readers in suspense, but in this case, it was more frustrating for me. We knew Luke's issue from the beginning of the book, why couldn't we know Emma's issue? Seriously, Burton could have told the readers much earlier even if she didn't want to reveal it to Luke until later on. I think it takes exceptional skill to reveal a secret very slowly without it just becoming annoying for the reader. When you do finally find out, it feels like a bit of a let down. Additionally, Burton uses this as the issue that is central to the conflict. It did not feel like it was developed properly nor did it have the level of suspense that was needed. In order to remain spoiler free, I am trying to limit what I say about this part.
Another issue with the book - why do women always apologize when it's the men who should be doing the apologizing?! Early in the book, Luke says something that Emma finds annoying/irritating/insulting. In a later scene, you learn that Luke knows on some level that he has insulted her. He admits he needs to fix it but doesn't until after she apologizes. For the most part, Luke is a great guy but I found myself fuming with this part.
What I did like in the story were Emma's friends Jane and Chelsea and her parents. There are books that frequently isolate the couple from friends and family and I particularly like how Burton always builds family and friends into the story. I liked Luke's older brother Logan and am interested in reading Hope Ignites and learning more about him. There is also a prequel novella with Jane and Will coming in February which I am interested in reading.
Despite some of my frustration with Hope Flames (which may not be things that bother other readers), I will stick around and see where the series goes.