REVIEW: Burn by Linda Howard
Dear Ms. Howard:
I liked this book but I think it is important for a reader to view it more as an adventure book than a romance on although there is a strong romance. It lacks the emotional intensity of prior Howard works, but it was engaging. There was a certain instruction manual feel to it as you guide us through each mental connection of the heroine as she susses out the who and the why and this, I think, lends to some emotional detachment for me.
Jenner Redwine wins the lottery and it changes her life, although not totally for the better. We are definitely treated to some poor little rich girl scenes in the beginning but I sympathized with Jenner. (and secretly hope to be her some day, well, not her exactly but independently wealthy). We are taken through each and every step of the lottery winning process but then skip over the attempts to integrate into Palm Beach society. (I.e., after all the thoughtful exposition as to how Jenner picked her financial adviser and lost her friends, I am surprised we see nothing about her decision to move Palm Beach. It’s just one of those Howard mysteries as to why we get blow by blow descriptions of one facet of Jenner’s life and not others. I’d like to assume it was related to plot or character development choices but I wasn’t able to discern how.)
At eight thirty, she was watching the clock as she flipped through the phone book’s advertising pages. There was nothing under "money handlers," which was frustrating, because how the hell else would it be listed? Maybe there was something under "banks." What she learned was that there were a lot of banks in the Chicago area, and most of them advertised themselves as "full service" banks. What was that? Maybe they pumped gas for your car and checked the oil. Banks cashed checks, right? What else was there? Unfortunately, the ads didn’t say what those services were, so she was still in the dark.
She slammed the phone book shut and angrily paced the kitchen. She hated feeling ignorant, hated that she couldn’t look up what she wanted in the yellow pages, because she didn’t know how things were listed. But she’d never had a bank account, mostly because she never had much money and a bank account seemed stupid. She paid her bills either in cash, or by money order. That wasn’t the wrong way to do things, was it? Lots of people handled their bills that way-‘most of the people she knew, in fact.
Frank Larkin is a very bad man who is doing very bad things. This prompts a secret government surveillance team to set up shop on a luxury cruise ship. Cael Traylor is the point man for this operation and he is aided by two familiar figures, Ryan and Faith, as well as others. Jenner’s suite on the yacht is conveniently located next to Larkin’s (the bad guy). The secret gov’t surveillance team sweeps in, threatens Jenner into compliance by holding her best friend, Sydney Haslett, hostage, and sets up the sexual tension between Jenner and Cael. The sexual tension is there from the first. It seems almost impossible for there not to be sexual tension once Jenner susses out that she’s fairly safe and that Cael must be one of the good guys. After all, other than handcuffing her to the bed, to him, to chairs, he hasn’t done anything to harm her.
There were several scenes that showed Sydney’s hostage situation. Given that we, the reader, already knew that Sydney wouldn’t be harmed and that her incarceration was nothing more than an inconvenience, I didn’t understand the point of her scenes. There is no secondary romance for Sydney and the scenes didn’t add to Jenner’s situation because the reader knew all. It’s possible that this was all sequel bait although that’s not generally a Howard trait.
We track the internal monologue of Jenner so closely that the failure to address what would happen once the "surveillance" was over seemed strident. In other words, how did they expect for these two women whom they presumed to be airheads to keep their mouth shut about the surveillance?
The ending, though, was poignant. Not everyone was protected under the umbrella of romance safety. In the end, while this was a quick and entertaining read, it doesn’t live up to my high Howard standards. It’s hard to become really attached to these characters. That said, the book is very readable. C+
This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.
I have been waiting and waiting for a review just so I can ask someone who reads more into a novel than I do: What has that cover got to do with the story? What has that title got to do with the story? And doesn’t my concern about the relevance of the cover say a lot about my interest in the content? Yup.
*sigh* Linda Howard is an auto-buy for me and although I like her writing this one was a snoozer for almost half the story. Every time I thought we were going someplace interesting the author switched scenes.
And next up is Howard’s “Ice” — which is not the story of Sydney from this book… when I thought for sure there would be more from this group characters.
@joanne: HA! We are in the same boat (pun not intended). My guess is Burn has to do with the villain? Maybe? And the bikini clad woman … I’ve got nothing.
Lately I’ve been so disappointed in Howard’s novels! It makes me sad, because I used to LOVE her writing, and her books used to be auto-buys that stayed on my keeper shelf. Then I started getting them in hardback from the library – but I haven’t even bothered to put “Heat” on hold, because I couldn’t get past the first few chapters of “Death Angel.”
With the exception of the two Blair Mallory novels (which made me laugh out loud), none of Howard’s other books in the past five years (maybe longer) has been a keeper.
It seems to me she started her “more suspense and violence, less romance” slide with “All the Queen’s Men.” (Geez, published in 1999! But I liked “Mr. Perfect” in 2001 …) I thought her portion of the Raintree Trilogy was the weakest; it was definitely my least favorite.
I understand that authors like to try new skills and expand their repertoire, but I’m sorry to see a formerly favorite author change so much as to be totally unappealing.
I liked the book, but I disagreed with Cael’s reasoning on one major plot point: Cael stated that holding both women against their will for two weeks wasn’t kidnapping, because no ransom was involved. I’d like to see what jurisdiction that defense would work in. Also, I agree with Jane that I was surprised that there was no secondary romance involving Sydney. As for the cover, many people on a cruise lay out in the sun, so that was my initial interpretation.
Oh, my day job self has all KINDS of problems with this book. But, leaving aside the massive reality fail (it is, after all, fiction), it wasn’t bad. I gave it a C+ as well. Nice to know I’m not totally off my rocker ;)
As to the cover – um. well. Nope. Nothing. Title, I’m going with Jane.
I was disappointed by this book, having bought it against my better judgment. Howard fell off my auto-buy list a while ago. It felt like a lot of time and page space was devoted to getting Jenner into position as a wealthy woman, but that build up sort of petered out (for me). The financial planner whose introduction was so detailed disappeared from the page. Instead a new friend who felt sort of cardboard appeared and was the hinge for the kidnapping/action portion. The caution that was displayed early on disappeared in the face of her attraction to her kidnapper, which was a real head-scratcher for me. I never got past the hero being a kidnapper, even if he was a “good guy”. (Like Kim, I think Cael’s reasoning is hairsplitting.) And so on.
I wanted to like this book, but other than the prologue (when I had no clue who anybody was), there was NO SUSPENSE in it.
The villain was so over-the-top with his myriad of plans that I kept expecting a scene where he ties Jenner to railroad tracks and twirls his moustache while confessing his entire life of crime.
Jenner wasn't a very captivating heroine to me; I didn't dislike her, but didn't like her either. Since so much of the book focused solely on her, it made for a very meh read. I would have liked to read more about Cael and his crew of spies. They were the only interesting characters in the book to me, but we got only glimpses of them.
While overall it was a disappointment, Burn was still more entertaining than her last several books. But I really do miss the days when Linda Howard was an autobuy.,
That instruction manual feel that you mention has really annoyed me in her latest books.
I’v gone back to rereading older Howard books as I just can’t warm to her newer books, which is really sad. I do not understand why Jenner and her friend had to be held hostage. If the “good” guys are working for the goverment, why could’nt they just ask Jenner to move for national security or something. It sounds silly to me to and an artifical way of providing tension.
I’m waiting for Burn in paperback, and maybe used. LH was an auto-buy author for me even with her recent releases prior to Burn (I kept hoping). But I have to put my foot down now — her writing have really changed in the last few books, and until her old self comes back I’ll wait to read her books in PB format.
Burn posed the same problem that I have with a lot of romances. I like the initial set-up, but I get bored half-way through. Once the hero and the heroine meet and overcome their first obstacle to romance, the writer has to set up implausible and trite suspense mechanisms to get through the next 100-150 pages. I agree that the villain was ridiculous in this book and I too would not have been surprised if he’d tied Jenner to the railroad. I was picturing someone straight out of James Bond; I thought he might try to emasculate Cael with a laser (but only after conveniently leaving the room). I skipped all the chapters that were about the villain because they seemed like stuffing and they didn’t actually advance the plot. How many times do we need to hear about how he is dying and angry and wants to kill everyone?? Once the Jenner realized that Cael was a good guy and wanted to sleep with him, the tension inflated like a balloon and the only momentum left in the plot was the villain's stupid plot. We know the hero and heroine aren't going to die (this is a romance!) I guess killing off a secondary character was Howard's attempt to shock the reader, but I was pretty unmoved. Killing off a mildly sympathetic character is pretty par for the course in most books and films, after all.
I contrast this with After the Night, my favorite Linda Howard book, which kept me emotionally engaged right up to the last page…. Or the Mackenzie books, which have more of an action plot, but keep the romance as the main focus right up to the end.
Unfortunately, those books are far and few between. Any book that has to advance the plot with cardboard villains seems like a waste of my time and I am skimming to the end of about half of the books I buy. I wish more authors would write relationship centered plots rather than borrowing the worst tropes from mystery and thriller genres.
And what about the fact that when they have intercourse for the 1st time – Jenner gets nothing out of it, but she’s ok with that because Cael had previously given her an orgasm when he went down on her.
Sorry, but I’d have been beyond pissed…and what a disappointing sex scene for the reader.
Linda Howard needs to go back and reread her books from 10 years ago where the love scenes were HOT and mutually satisfying. I actually reread “After the Night” and “Dream Man” after finishing the disappointing “Burn” to remind myself why I used to love Linda Howard’s books.
I’m pretty much done for now with buying her books in hardcover.
one more thought….
I bought this book because I loved the lottery premise. Who hasn’t fantasized about what she would do with a lottery win? My mom and I have this little game in which we talk about all the ways we’d spend a lottery (the winnings have to get bigger and bigger to support all the adventure trips we’d take, the kids we’d send to college, and the charities we’d start)
And all Jenner could think to do with her money was to dye her hair and buy a condo in Florida? Why Florida – why not New York, or California, or Hawaii? She had no ties there or reason for the move. It’s not like the lottery winnings come with a contract that states that you have to live in Florida and attend boring charity events with people you don't like. Couldn’t she have traveled the world, bought a villa in Italy, started a charity to help other low income women? What a stunning lack of imagination!
I liked her right up until she won the lottery. She lost my sympathy once she decided to spend the rest of her life shopping and tracking her investments online.
It’s been driving me crazy …
Why are they familiar??? They *were* in a previous book, right??
@Bonnie B – you know, I thought it was a previous Howard book, but I went and checked recent titles and I didn’t see Ryan and Faith. The way in which it was written made it seem like we knew these characters from before.
After two comments, I've finally put my finger on what bothered me about this novel. (Yes, the villain was ludicrous. Yes, the sex was rather disappointing. Yep, the secondary characters were distracting and boring)
I had high expectations because the story had the potential to explore American social class in a fun and engaging way. I'm interested in this topic because, like a lot of people, I come from a working class family background, but was thrown into a wealthy, elite environment through my education. The nuances of culture in different social groups are fascinating.
I like the lottery premise – an uneducated factory worker from a dysfunctional family wins the lottery and has to figure out her new place in the world. The class conflicts alone would have been enough to create a great romance-driven book. No need for exploding cruise ships, shady spies, or comic book villains!
The challenges of moving from poverty to wealth are very real and complex. I read a Washington Post story about a factory worker from a rural community (West Virginia?) who won a mega lottery and saw his whole life crumble as a result. He was poor and worked hard, but he was devoted to his granddaughter and had a church community. After winning the lottery he descended into alcoholism, frequented strip-clubs, and lost all his friends. His granddaughter pulled her friends into a lavish drug fueled lifestyle – resulting in the death and imprisonment of several young people in the community. I thought it was realistic that Jenner could have gone down that route. I liked how Howard made the win disorienting and frightening, rather than exciting and exhilarating. It made sense that Jenner wasn't ready to leave her factory job in the first month if it meant taking out a one-month loan. It made sense that she bought her friend expensive clothes and then lost the friendship to envy and greed. I was completely engaged with the story up to this point (even before any romance).
Howard lost me when she skipped ahead multiple years and took Jenner to Florida. How did Jenner decide to go to Florida? Was Florida her dream vacation when she was poor? How did she educate herself about the world outside her little community?
Also, the rich â€œsocietyâ€ people were way off mark. I don't know Florida, but I do know people who are independently wealthy and this part of the novel was completely inaccurate. People with millions of dollars do not go on cruises. Cruises are a middle class luxury. If you have millions of dollars, you are not going to be excited about free restaurants, evening shows, and day trips to Hawaii. If you are really rich, you have been to Hawaii many times (and probably much more exotic tropical islands) and you do not want to be stuck on a cruise ship when you can join a select group of your friends on a private yacht.
Knowing which fork to use would have been the least of Jenner's worries in trying to fit into â€œsociety.â€ People with multi-generational wealth send their kids to ivy league colleges (even if they don't expect them to work later) and they have a pretty rigid unstated code of behavior. As a woman from a working class background, Jenner would have struggled a lot more to understand this weird little world.
I wish Howard had focused more on that conflict: Why does Jenner want to be part of this society? Does she really want to lead such a shallow, idle life? Throw in a blue-blooded hero who has preconceived ideas of culture and social class, but is attracted to Jenner's spirit and common sense, and you'd have an interesting story.
Wow, Lindsey. Since Howard didn’t write that book, I’d love to read the kind of book you’re describing with those conflicts. I remember that story about the lottery winner from WV. It was very sad.
But all that aside, I’m still looking forward to reading Burn this weekend. I’m one of the ones who liked last year’s Death Angel and maybe my expectations are such that I’ll enjoy this one too. It does sound as if there is still quite a bit to like here.
@Phyl: oh, absolutely. I didn’t mean to get on a I hate Linda Howard books train. I too loved (ducking all the rotten fruit being thrown) Death Angel and think that Howard, on her worse day, still writes better than many published authors.
It felt like the author wanted to make the suspense a central part of the story and she succeeded in that. I would have rather seen more of Jenner’s journey of changing her expectations of people and the her feelings about her escape from the parasites that surrounded her after her lottery win.
That was just what I would have wanted but this story was still good. She was NOT going to end up like the gentleman described above and I loved that she watched her money very, very carefully.
I very much liked that Jenner had tried so many different things before settling on giving her time and money to charities and her friendship with Sydney was a nice plus.
Wow, Lindsey, I think you are talking about Jack Whittaker and that is a really bowdlerized version of his story. His daughter (the deceased granddaughter’s mother) died earlier this month. She was 42 and a cause of death has not been announced yet. I doubt if everyone here wants to read the whole story so I won’t go into detail but I can assure you that the story is much more twisted than you can imagine and probably more suited to a one of Joe Lansdale’s novels.
Since money and personal finance are passions of mine:
– 75% of lottery winners end up losing it all (can’t remember source, but maybe this article will help)
– 1 in 3 go broke within five years
IMO, the reason for those shocking stats is, frankly, more…economically challenged people play the lottery than anyone else and, unfortunately, very few of them have the financial skills to hold onto their money. (Of course, after Bernie Madoff and the US economic meltdown, it seems few people from any income level have the skills to hold onto their money.)
Even more interesting are the stats on athletes:
– 60% of retired NBA players go broke within 5 years
– 78% of retired NFL players go broke within 2 years
So, buckets and buckets of money doesn’t mean financial freedom if you don’t know how to handle it. Some days I want to start a money management firm for athletes. I can guarantee they won’t lose their principle by tossing their money into a high-interest savings account and leaving it there.
This is a good point. I kept thinking that maybe there would be a secondary romance with Sydney, but it didn’t develop strangely enough.
I still thought that there were some great scenes between Cael and Jenner that held true to classic Howard. The scene in the resturant with the old ladies and the salad was priceless. But even though there was a lot of sexual tension, there wasn’t enough of her signature sex. Oh well, still worth a read, if you like Howard IMHO.
To me, it felt like LH wrote this book very deliberately, hoping to appeal to the film market. It was like reading a mediocre action flick, not a LH novel.
I know I’m REALLY late to this topic, but one comment on one of the original questions about the cover. The cover is a hot chick in a black string bikini. That’s what Jenner wore to go scuba diving with Cael the day they “got it on.” Just a thought.
The book is called Burn because that’s how the villain dies, even though he wanted to die quickly and painlessly. Cael made sure Frank Larkin would burn to death when he changed the timer of one of the bombs.