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Release Review: Amy Lane: Bonfires

Bonfires
Amy Lane

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Release Date March 24, 2017
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Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron—who thought life began and ended with his kids—is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.

Larx has been living for his kids too—and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.

It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.

The last time I read a novel by Amy Lane was before I started reviewing books for the blog, and the three books of hers I have read gave me the impression that she is a master of heavy and angsty plot in the manner that I really enjoy. Now that I have read Bonfires, I need to adjust my impression because it’s clear she can also write good lighter stories as well.

Don’t get the wrong impression from that last sentence though. With its own angsty background stories and subplots, Bonfires is far from fluffy, but it’s certainly not the sort of book that will rip your heart out and stomp on it with cleats before getting around to the happy ending (Chase in Shadow, I’m looking at you!) Here, the angst comes not only from a heinous crime but from how it has the potential to lead one of the main characters back down the same path that upended his family and nearly destroyed his life several years prior.

The story features two main characters—the high school principal, “Larx” Larkin, and a deputy sheriff, Aaron George—who live in a small town in the mountains of California and are both in their late forties. Besides being written by Amy Lane, this was the main draw for me, simply because the kind of drama that arises in these stories is a refreshing change of pace compared to the stuff in books with younger mains. Something else I don’t recall encountering before is also present with these characters: they’re both bisexual men who were married to women (one divorced and one widowed) and have kids who are all in their teens or older. As such, this is a story largely about family, for both the good and the bad of it. And happily, none of the drama of the book is caused by the reappearance of a spiteful ex-wife or other person from the main characters’ pasts.

Of more importance to the romance, though, is that the events that caused both these men to become single parents happened nearly a decade ago and neither has been in a serious relationship since then. So when Aaron and Larx, who have known each other for several years, both realize their feelings are mutual, it’s sort of a mad rush to act on it. Well, it would be if it weren’t for their responsibilities to their kids and their jobs, since the bulk of the plot revolves around a pair of crimes, the discovery of a dead body floating in a nearby lake and the assault of popular football player after homecoming, the latter of these looking largely like a hate crime.

Even though Larx and Aaron have known each other so long, the story does have the feeling of insta-love, mainly because the bulk of their relationship building happens over the course of the few tumultuous weeks that not only threaten what they’re trying to build, but also their careers and the town itself. While I enjoyed this story a great deal, I’m not sure if it was because of this brief timeline, during which their relationship went from “we’re interested” to “I love you” within a matter of days, or if it was because of the importance of the background story to the plot of the book as a whole, but something about it kept me from getting the level of feels out of the romance here compared to the other books of hers I’ve read. Of course, it might well be that I’m having a bit of book hangover from recent reads where I’ve fallen in love with the mains so much that I wanted to crawl into bed between them, so in no way do I mean this as something to deter someone from reading the book.

Probably the thing I appreciated most about Bonfires is the author’s realistic portrayals of the consequences of her plots. It’s worth noting that the solution to the crimes is fairly obvious, so don’t go into reading this story thinking that it’s going to be a mystery/romance mix, but this fact adds to the realism in that the crimes and reactions fit well within what one might expect from small-town rural America. Of course, this is a romance, so the guys get their happily ever after, but it’s not a fairy-tale ending where every loose end is tied up with the best possible outcome. There’s a very real sense that just like in real life, the events that take place could well result in bumps in the future. But with this comes the equally strong feeling that these two and their newly extended family will persevere. And more than the feels sometimes, it’s this sense of hopefulness and optimism that gives a better sense of satisfaction in a romance.

The author and/or publisher generously provided me a complimentary copy of Bonfires in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Amy Lane 
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Amy Lane has two kids in college, two gradeschoolers in soccer, two cats, and two Chi-who-whats at large. She lives in a crumbling crapmansion with most of the children and a bemused spouse. She also has too damned much yarn, a penchant for action adventure movies, and a need to know that somewhere in all the pain is a story of Wuv, Twu Wuv, which she continues to believe in to this day! She writes fantasy, urban fantasy, and m/m romance--and if you accidentally make eye contact, she'll bore you to tears with why those three genres go together. She'll also tell you that sacrifices, large and small, are worth the urge to write.


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