Author: Erin McLellan
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
At eighteen, Joel Smith’s life fell to pieces. His boyfriend died in a car crash while reading a sext from him, the local newspaper outed them both in the aftermath, and his parents got a divorce. Joel did everything possible to outrun his past: he moved to Oklahoma for college, legally changed his name, and started over.
Since then, he hasn’t let anyone get close—not his classmates, not his roommate, and definitely not his hookups. The strategy has served him well for over three years. Why would he change it now?
But Joel doesn’t plan on the articles about his boyfriend’s death being used as a case study in one of his classes. And he doesn’t plan on Paulie McPherson, who is sweet and giving and fun. In Paulie, he finds a home for the first time in years.
But love isn’t simple, and lies have a tendency to get in the way. Joel must figure out if he’ll allow his grief to rule him, or if his connection with Paulie is worth letting all of his walls come tumbling down.
It’s difficult to put my feelings about this story into words. First, because I have a lot of feels right now and my emotions are all over the board—but all positive. And second, because the author was so outstanding in using words to craft a very unusual and uniquely satisfying tale of the progression of one man’s struggle from the depths of pain and inner turmoil to true happiness and love. I’m humbled by the task of attempting to write a review that could possibly capture the awesomeness that is Controlled Burn.
I think I’d like to first address the title, however, since I personally struggled through most of the story trying to figure out how it related to the story and then was gobsmacked by how perfect it is when the simile was explained. A controlled burn is a fresh start. It removes old dead growth, encourages new growth, and in short, gives new life to old ground. Usually used in agriculture, the author chose to use the term to express what occurs for Joel Smith, a young man badly damaged emotionally—privately and publicly—when his high school boyfriend, Diego, is killed in an accident while reading a sext from Joel, whose name was Jared at that time.
The fallout from that death broke up Joel’s family: his parents divorced, his boyfriend’s parents verbally castrated him in the community and enlisted a self-righteous politician to introduce a law against sending a text to someone you know is driving. The publicity drove he and his mom out of state where he changed his name and finished his last year of high school before going on to a university in Oklahoma where he’s been able to remain anonymous to everyone—including his roommate and best friend, Travis.
He’s king of the one-night stand and likes it that way. He keeps his love for Diego well-hidden in the deepest part of his heart. Unable to even talk about it, no one at the university is aware of his past and the love he holds for Diego to this day. Always choosing a muscular jock—similar to Diego—he’s gobsmacked when he’s suddenly attracted to Paulie: a short, cute, smart, classy guy, with an abundance of fashionable scarves and a wide gap-toothed smile.
During most of the book, Joel is conflicted over his feelings for Paulie—to the point of outright denial—because he can’t face addressing his feelings for Diego and letting him go, but Paulie, who was rejected by his religious family and sent to live with his aunt when he was fourteen, loves Joel unconditionally. That is, until Joel does something so unforgiveable that even Paulie can’t accept it.
Knowing he loves Paulie but unable to let go of his love (or obsession) for Diego drives Joel to hurt Paulie—possibly irreparably. His journey to healing was far from done, even when he began to care for Paulie, and the author takes us through his incredible metamorphosis with a gentle, healing touch and a ride on a bumpy emotional roller coaster. Her words and phrases reminded me constantly of someone who can provide comfort with a soft word, a gentle stroke of a hand along an arm, a kiss on the cheek—in short, someone who knows how to bring both comfort and strength to those who need it. I have read thousands of romance books, and I can honestly say this new author surpassed all the others in the way her words provided that healing touch therapy. It was almost as if she had a gentle touch on the keyboard that transferred to the story. Very difficult to explain, but the words reached out and grabbed my heartstrings and wouldn’t let go.
“He looked like home, and nothing had looked like home in a very long time.”
“I held his precious face in my hands and kissed him like I loved him and wanted him and couldn’t breathe without his breath.”
“I could hold him and be strong, and cry for his pain and be strong. And love him forever.”
I am definitely looking forward to more from this author and hoping and praying that the fabulous Travis will get his own story. What a wonderful character! In fact, the entire cast of secondary characters were well-developed and absolutely necessary to the completion of Joel’s journey.
There’s not much more to say except—don’t miss out on this incomparable, beautifully written love story. It’s going to the top of my 2017 favorites list!