Sunday, July 8, 2007

Into the Fire, by Anne Stuart [4]

****/***** (4/5)

There's too many things to like about Anne Stuart's INTO THE FIRE. In my continuing quest for a fusion between romance and other genres, this particular one blurs the lines of distinction between contemporary romance, suspense and mystery, though it's still a romance at heart. I thought INTO THE FIRE does a very decent job in all of these genres and yet still manages to pull off a world unto its own. Aside from the contemporary world, the novel seemed to breath a new world within the garage building in remote Cooperstown, Wisconsin (U.S.), where most of the novel takes place. It was surreal, yet grounded. The settings -- though good -- I thought could have been better if Anne Stuart spent even more time than she already did describing the decrepit garage building. As it is, the inanimate garage building still came alive. The prose isn't bad at all, and the characterizations were excellent with ample backstories and well-realized. Especially Bad-Boy Dillon Gaynor. The romance was very passionate, electrically charged. Anne Stuart even made me laugh as she sprinkles in some witty dialogue.

I've heard you haven't read bad boys until you've read Anne Stuart's bad boys. Within the context of the romance genre, I would have to agree. Although INTO THE FIRE's Dillon is a convicted felon, a high-school dropout, a drunk, a drug dealer, and an all-around insensitive jerk, he still manages to capture our good-girl heroine Jamie Kincaid's attentions, and later, her heart. You have to hand it to Anne Stuart for getting bad boys right, and still have the reader find them endearing, at least on some level. I've also heard Anne Stuart redeems her heroes fully by the end and such is the case here as well because bad-boy Dillon doesn't have the most noble, gentlemanly intentions towards his heroine Jamie starting out.

Jamie signifies courage during very trying circumstances and a spunky wit on her own right, and in that regard, her character pretty much golfs par for romance. What I found funny though: she drives all the way from her home in Rhode Island to Dillon's car garage in Wisconsin for some answers only to find herself wanting to flee Dillon -- constantly. Classic case of a heroine's nerves and instincts guarding her falling heart, but I thought it was funny here, and unique in the midst of the eerie, suspenseful car garage building. For those of you that are a bit squeamish (I myself can't take S&M), I must warn of a rape scene in the beginning. It's part of Jamie's flashback, and I thought it was important in two respects: it showed Jamie's strength of character and it signified in the overall love story and passion between Jamie and Dillon.

My problems?

Well for one, I thought the book contained too many plot holes. I didn't mind that it often bordered on paranormal elements, but it didn't provide a reasonable explanation for the happenings in Dillon's car garage at the end. Either make it paranormal or provide me with some reasonable explanations please.

And secondly, this is getting back to my need for some satisfactory ending - not necessarily happy 100%, but satisfactory nonetheless. I didn't like how the ending didn't spend enough time between its hero and heroine, Jaime and Dillon. It also felt contrived and rushed.

Finally, I felt Dillon was reformed too easily, and all the criminal charges against him absolved too conveniently. Could be related to my problem with plot holes.

The premise (spoiler-free).

Twenty-eight year-old school teacher Jaime Kincaid has just lost her beloved cousin Nate to death. Tall, dark and handsome, Nate possessed a beguiling smile and a comforting, easy presence. Nate and Dillon Gaynor have been best friends forever and Nate was found bludgeoned to death in his best friend's car garage. Jaime fears thirty year-old Dillon for many reasons: she's had a crush on Dillon since she was 15, Dillon's James-Dean, Rebel-Without-a-Cause persona infringes on her deepest, darkest desires, and he's violent in the worst ways having served jail time for almost beating someone to death when he was 19. Yet, Jaime treks out there in her Volvo for some answers and Nate's belongings since Dillon ignores her letters. The police have dropped Nate's case and Jaime is determined to get some answers.

As she arrives at Dillon's eerie car garage, she's horrified to watch Dillon beating someone up. Nope, Jaime thinks, he hasn't changed at all.

Bad-Boy Dillon Gaynor has his own reasons for intentionally withholding Nate's belongings and hoping to see Jaime again in person after 12 years. They aren't the most noble reasons either, he just wants to use her for his own satisfaction. As soon as Jaime arrives, she wants to escape, to return to Rhode Island while Dillon treacherously sabotages her means to return. He effectively imprisons her in his creepy, dilapidated car garage building.

The story continues its wild ride from there as good-girl Jaime and bad-boy Dillon struggle with ghosts from their past and with each other.

A very engaging reading experience, and it had me completely hooked from beginning to end.

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