30 January 2012

Review: First Responders by Loree Lough

This is actually a combined review of the first two books in the First Responders series by Loree Leigh. The first, From Ashes to Honor, is the story of Austin, a New York cop who lost his twin brother on 9/11, and Mercy, the police psychologist who declared him unfit for police work.  They accidentally meet in Baltimore a few years later, having both changed careers, and find that despite their history, there is a mutual attraction. But Austin is a committed Christian, and Mercy is an unbeliever. It's not that the book is bad - it just didn't grab me. I saw why Mercy was interested in Austin, but I never really understood why Austin was attracted to Mercy, nor why he was developing a romantic relationship with her knowing that she did not share his faith and knowing how important that should be.

It irritates me when a novel gives us a 'conversion of convenience' a few short pages before the end, with no real progression from non-belief to faith. In real life, very few people become Christians as adults without a period of thought and reflection, so it annoys me when fictional characters have the literary equivalent of a death-bed conversion. However, this novel gave me something I like even less – no conversion at all.

So, on to Honor Redeemed, the second book in the series.  This follows Honor Mackenzie, who trains search and rescue dogs, and Matt Phillips, a widower with two small children, employed as a newspaper reporter. The two meet and a relationship develops, but there are dark secrets in Honor’s past which have not been dealt with that causes struggles for them both. Then (and this is a direct quote from the book blurb) “he’s told Honor has disappeared during a rescue effort”, so he races off to try and save her. 

But this happens in the last quarter of the book. One of my pet hates is when the book blurb or title talks about something that doesn't happen until well into the book. The worst example I can think of is Wedding Blunder in the Black Hills (where the wedding doesn't occur until the epilogue), but
Honor Redeemedcomes close. How is it that a book review should not contain plot 'spoilers', but the advertising copy can?  Again, this was a good story of a sweet relationship as it progressed, but parts of the story, especially towards the end, felt rushed, as though something was missing.  We do find out Honor's dark secret at the end, and we don't get to see what will overcome it - at least not in this book. Frankly, there had been hints about this early on but they were then ignored until the end, only to appear again out of nowhere and leave a sour taste in the mouth. This, in my opinion, was a sub-plot that could have been excluded with no loss.

There were also some issues of timing between the two books, which I probably noticed more than other readers because I read them back-to-back.  From Ashes to Honorsupposedly finished in January 2012 with Austin and Mercy breaking up over her lack of faith, yet at the beginning of Honor Redeemedthey are engaged and planning a 31 December wedding (year not stated). Say, what? We finally get a brief and unsatisfying explanation of how Mercy and Austin got back together about three quarters of the way through Honor Redeemed.

The essence of a romance novel is that a couple meet, a relationship develops, and there is a happy ending as the couple fall in love while they work together to overcome obstacles. A romance novel, according to the Romance Writers of America, must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” (more commonly referred to as the ‘happy ever after’ or HEA). From Ashes to Honorand Honor Redeemed are therefore not romance novels. They are Christian fiction and clearly follows the development of a relationship, but they are not romance novels.

Loree Lough is an excellent writer with engaging plots and likeable characters, and From Ashes to Honorwas looking to be a solid four star plus read, until the end. It just finished. No happy ever after, no resolution of the main conflict, nothing. Honor Redeemedwas the same, and I didn’t like it. I admire Lough's desire to honour those who work in first response situations. But authors such as Dee Henderson, DiAnn Mills and Irene Hannon have written romantic suspense series covering similar professions, yet were much more satisfying.
Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing free ebooks for review.  For more information about Loree Lough, visit her website.

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