A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Formulaic story featuring a sexy fireman.
When an accident burns down Jesse’s apartment, he’s left broke and homeless, with a giant dog and a college schedule he can’t afford to maintain. And no family who’s willing to take him in. Lucky for him, a sexy fireman offers him a place to stay. The drawback? The fireman’s big Latino family lives next door, and they don’t know their son is gay.
Tomas’s parents made their way in America with hard work and by accepting help when it was offered, so he won’t let Jesse drop out of school just so he can afford a place to live. Besides, Jesse’s the perfect roommate—funny, sweet and breathtakingly cute. He climbs into Tomas’s bed and tugs at his heart. Until Jesse starts pushing for more.
Their passion enflames their bodies but threatens to crush Tomas’s family. Tomas is willing to fight for Jesse, but after losing everything, Jesse isn’t sure he can bear to risk his one remaining possession—his heart.
Fire and Rain Series
I’ve read and enjoyed a good few of Ms Harris’ Men of Holsum College books, but gave up on the series when it became too formulaic for my tastes. So when I saw she had something new and that it was published by Samhain, I was curious to see how she’d grown as a writer.
The answer is: not much. From the Ashes is not a bad read; it’s okay. It’s a safe read. I disliked one of the heroes and liked the other. The secondary characters were fun and realistic. I liked the dog. But—but!—I don’t want a nice okay book that’s safe and has everyone behaving perfectly according to formula. I don’t want pedestrian and ordinary even if the guys themselves are ordinary. I want to get lost inside the story and feel along with the characters, and although this book had the potential for it, it never quite got there.
I didn’t like Jesse at all. He’s young, but at times he comes across as too young and immature. He and Tomas get it on very quickly; even allowing for the reaction to losing everything, Jesse flinging himself at Tomas and indeed his emotional responses to Tomas gave me a sense of dissonance for most of the book. There’s a victim mentality to him that is never quite shaken off, so he seems needier than he really is to the point that it feels like Tomas is doing all the work.
In many ways Tomas is the one who carries the story, because his character growth is the strongest and he (thinks he) stands to lose the most—his family, his friends, his pride, his own sense of self-awareness—if he comes out as gay. Compared to this, Jesse’s character arc is very small and what he gets in terms of pay-off is disproportionate to what Tomas goes through.
Tomas has set ideas (and ideals) that he has to dismantle one by one as he realises that he’s falling in love; he also has to deal with external pressures, some of which are more problematic than others. Some of his family are accepting; others are not. One of the things I liked best was the extension of ‘family’ in Tomas’s workplace, where it’s obvious that he sees his fire crew colleagues as brothers, even if they’re not that close. Tomas’s feelings for his buddy Rick, for example, mirror his feelings for his brother Diego. It’s these minor details and the building/maintenance of relationships external to the central romantic couple that I enjoy in Ms Harris’s books.
While there was an okay story going on about learning to move on and accept yourself and have other people accept you as you were, I felt that it was only skimming the surface. It said all the right things at mostly the right time, but it lacked depth. I don’t usually compare a book to others within the genre while I’m reading, but as I read this one I kept thinking of Family Man, which is in no way similar in plot or tone but which does share the same basic tropes in character and pairing. What makes Family Man the more successful book for me is because its authors play with the trope and characters and make them fresh, while Ms Harris adheres to the formula. There’s nothing wrong with this—hundreds of series writers can’t be wrong and God knows I read enough of them!—but the trick is to twist the trope and stretch the characters and give something new each time, which doesn’t happen here.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfectly serviceable novella and Daisy Harris fans will enjoy it—but it could have been so much better.