I’m never sure what to expect from Ms Aten – she jumps all over different genres and has published a number of novels over a relatively short period of time. I can’t keep up with her books – and when I see her newest book I wonder if she is a SF author, a fantasy author or contemporary romance author? I’ve read a few of her books so far and I’m coming to the conclusion that she’s just a really good author.
Burn it Down is an emotionally charged drama that impressed the heck out of me. Told in first person POV, we are drawn into the character of Ash Hayes, a Detroit fire fighter who is plagued by depression, anger, regret and guilt. In order to be cleared to return to duty, Ash has to attend a series of visits to a therapist for a clean bill of mental health which threatens to open a Pandora’s box as Ash slowly opens up both to herself and the therapist. But remember that the last thing remaining in Pandora’s box was Hope and Burn It Down is really about Ash learning to accept what has happened and how to move forward.
Ash’s past and present are so raw and painful to read; but, Aten doesn’t go for the easy angst and makes this a particularly real and emotionally-charged story. Faced with an impossible choice, Ash is beset by survivors guilt which feeds the feelings of doubt and guilt that a pretty horrible childhood created. I never felt that Aten was exploiting any elements of Ash’s past for over the top drama – there was an honest and bleak portrayal – and she deals with them in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Aten deftly weaves bits and pieces of memories or brief flashbacks into the story to inject a sense of tension and suspense and compel the reader to continue to delve deeper into Ash’s past. I was completely absorbed into the book. Rather than dropping the reader into the middle of the events that have brought Ash to this point, Aten allows a bit of distance and retrospect as Ash remembers and shares key events and their impacts and begins to unpack and examine them in the context of her life now. Aten also creates a wonderfully real and diverse cast of supporting characters who are fully developed, engaging and believable – and provide a solid ground for Ash when everything else seems to be crumbling.
The romance was wonderfully paced and resonated in the larger context of the story. It fits perfectly with Ash’s coming to terms with everything that has happened in her life and Mia provides the bedrock foundation that Ash needs. Mia is someone who sees and accepts her – who doesn’t think her pain or tears makes Ash weak or worthless. There’s a subtle strength that builds between the characters as the relationship develops with minimal conflict – despite Ash’s fears and doubt, there’s little doubt that the love and respect that has developed is strong enough to weather the truths that need to come out. The fade to black for sex scenes was the perfect choice. There’s no doubt of the emotional and physical connection between Ash and Mia and having a graphic sex scene would have detracted from the whole story and would have felt inappropriate based on how heavy the rest of the issues were.
Overall this was an really good novel with an excellent blend of drama and romance and it made a lasting impression on me.