Review: Burning Up by Susan Andersen

Format: Mass Market
Publisher: HQN
Pub Date: August 31, 2010
FTC: Digital galley received from publisher through Netgalley

The Blurb:

Though it's been years since the infamous Macy O'James stepped foot in Sugarville, Washington, everyone remembers what she supposedly did. The tiny town is still buzzing about her crime and lack of punishment.
Now back to lend her family a hand, Macy vows to hold her head high—especially at her high school reunion. But forget about the hottest man in Sugarville escorting her. Though she and fire chief Gabriel Donovan generate enough sparks to burn down the town, he's a law-abiding, line-toeing straight arrow. So not her type.
But maybe—just maybe—he can change her mind about that.

Burning Up , while not Andersen's best, is a fun novel to curl up with for an afternoon or two. The plot is a bit worn and predictable, but there were some stand-out moments and intriguing characters. [Also, as an FYI, the blurb makes this book sound like it's about a HS reunion. It's not.]

I really love the 'heading back to small town' theme. It's one of my favorites. Probably because I graduated from a small school and still live in a very small town. So getting me to buy into the "high school drama never ends" routine isn't that difficult. Because I've witnessed it.

I enjoyed Macy. Her character is one that could have easily drifted into the annoying zone, but she steered clear of it. Her clothes--costumes, really--are her armor that she uses to insulate herself from the slights and outright verbal attacks delivered by her high school nemeses. She dresses to attract attention and create controversy--which gives people a target to focus their antipathy on and deflects them from probing any deeper into her personality to find something ELSE to criticize. It's a game that helps Macy hold her head up under the constant onslaught of disapproval she finds in her hometown.

Gabe was a little more sketchily portrayed and slightly less likable. The characters I really enjoyed were the secondary ones. Macy's cousin Janna, her "nephew" Ty, Gabe's ex-girlfriend Grace, Macy's rock star friend, Jack, and Macy's aunt and uncle.

What I did love was that the book didn't fall into the predictable 'hero saves heroine from her reputation problem' lines. Macy does that on her own. Gabe does play a part in helping boost her self esteem and realizing that not everyone in town thinks as the "in crowd" does. But the problems Macy struggles with are solved by Macy.

There's a dunk tank scene where the town bully coerces Macy into climbing in to be dunked. And buys 100 balls to throw at the target. Gabe waits, letting Macy make her point by repeatedly climbing up to be dunked again and again, and only intervenes when it looks like Macy is being physically harmed. Not only was that a turning point for Macy's perception of the town's real opinion of her (she witnesses the shakes of disgust aimed at her tormentor) it demonstrated to me that Gabe respected her enough to let her fight her own battles. 

The secondary plot line with Gabe's arson investigation felt a bit...secondary. Incidental. Unnecessary, really. Page filler, if you will. It was well written, but I felt like it was more about giving Gabe something to do than about putting any suspense in the novel. I would have liked to see that page time devoted to relationship building between Gabe and Macy or more time spent with the other couple in this book: Grace and Jack.

There was a noticeable absence of setting.  I honestly couldn't tell you in which state this book took place. We have some nice descriptions of individual property, but no real effort at atmosphere or a larger setting. It's not necessary to have page after page of description, but I do like to be able to visualize the characters in a setting. I couldn't really do that here.

Another thing that bugged me was the use of fire metaphors. Maybe it's my lit crit training from all of those English courses, but they jumped up out of the text and knocked me out of the narrative. Which I *hate*. I'm all for creative language use, but this just seemed a little over the top and self indulgent.

Despite the flaws, I found the book compelling. I enjoyed following along with Macy's exploits. And I loved the interaction between the entire cast of secondary characters. It gave the town a believable dynamic (despite the lack-o-setting).

I enjoyed the book, but it didn't measure up to Andersen's backlist. She's written far better books than this one. Still, it was a nice, quick 'back in high school' nostalgia romance featuring some wonderful characters.

My Grade: B-


  1. Love your button collection scroll, where did you get that?


  2. @Lilk13

    The button scroll is html. The images are gathered with codes from the websites, then I put this in front of it:
    < marquee direction=up >

    Remove the spaces and you have the code.