"3.5 stars" Firestorm was my first full-length novel by Ann Jacobs. I had previously read several of her novellas, some of which I really enjoyed, in particular Shana and Bear's stories which come earlier in the Black Gold series. I thought I would really like Firestorm too, but unfortunately, it left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. I don't think I've run into a hero in my romance reading who is quite as stubborn as Jake is about falling in love which is the main reason for my discontent. Firestorm is also different from other romances I've read in that it takes place entirely in the realm of powerful oil barons. All the talk of oil drilling and the oil business in general reminded of the old TV show, Dallas.
As I mentioned, Jake is an incredibly closed-off hero. He was devastated when his first wife, Alice, aborted their child, something he had desperately wanted for years, and left him for another man while he was out working the oil fields. Jake could have been a really tortured hero, and in some ways, I guess he was, but to me he came off as more cold and cynical. I know that he was badly hurt and betrayed by his ex-wife's actions, but it was rather annoying that he spent a large part of the story unfairly judging Kate by the very poor standard Alice had set. Jake stubbornly refused to believe that any woman could be anything but manipulative and calculating, or actually want the same things he wanted from life. He just always seemed to expect the worst of Kate at every turn even though she was nothing but sweet, kindhearted, and loving toward him when he didn't really deserve it. It was almost like he was looking for reasons to not fall in love with or trust her, and I thought him asking her to marry him while outright telling her he didn't love her and probably never would was pretty cold. Now that's not to say that Jake is a completely horrible person. I did respect him for initially backing off from his seduction of Kate when he realized she was an innocent and all he was really looking for was to get laid. He also treated her well enough. He was never abusive toward her and gave her everything she could have dreamed of from a material standpoint. He was also pretty protective of her. He just willfully kept his hardened heart locked up tight, and refused to let her in. Jake's eleventh hour turnaround in the final pages of the book, was almost too little too late, except that his declaration of love seemed heartfelt. Depending on how one views his character, I suppose it could be said that he loved her all along and just wouldn't or couldn't admit it to himself or anyone else, because he did do an awful lot of protesting, perhaps a little too much for someone who didn't care at all.
Kate is a very sweet, gentle, innocent heroine. She loves kids and was a school teacher before her father became ill and she came home to nurse him. After his death, she was pretty much alone in the world except for a couple of good friends. She owns the land that Jake's company is leasing for oil drilling. I found Kate to be a pretty likable heroine, but she may be a bit too sweet and traditional for some readers. Her fondest dream in life is simply to have a family and take care of her husband and kids. She is a twenty-eight year-old virgin, and while I have no real difficulty buying into the idea, it seems that most contemporary women who reach that age without having sex have some reason for it, such as religious beliefs or no time for relationships. It would have been nice if that side of her had been explored a little more deeply, because she was previously engaged and there was no mention of her or her fiancé having any strong beliefs that would have precluded a sexual relationship. Aside from that issue, I have to admit Kate was perhaps just a bit too passive even for me. I did have to wonder a little about a woman who definitely isn't a gold-digger but who would marry a man who had blatantly stated that he didn't love her. I wish that she had shown a little more backbone too, instead of allowing Jake and his family to practically steamroller her into a gaudy engagement ring and an elaborate wedding when she would have preferred something simpler. In the end, I guess she was admirable for loving Jake in spite of his major flaws, but I don't think I could have been so patient.
I've never been a big fan of instant attraction, and Jake and Kate's was perhaps even less believable to me than most because of them having immediate lustful stirring for each other within the first few pages of the book. They jumped into bed too quickly for my taste, and I just wasn't feeling any real connection between them for a large part of the story mainly due to Jake's stubbornness keeping them at arms-length. It's too bad that they didn't get to know each other better or communicate more, because they both shared virtually the same hopes and dreams for a traditional family life, but didn't even know it. Jake spends most of the time thinking that Kate is no different from other women, namely his ex, and for quite a while, she thinks that Jake is just a player who has no desire to put down any roots. The only way they seem to truly connect is physically, but even the bedroom scenes were a bit lackluster for me. It got a little better as the story progressed, but initially there wasn't much feeling to their love-making. It was more like sex for the sake of sex. The other Ann Jacobs stories I read were very erotic while this one leaned more toward the sensuous. The language was still pretty explicit, but the love scenes themselves were no more detailed than most mainstream romances. In fact, it was almost like Ms. Jacobs held back a little too much. Even after finishing the novel, I haven't quite decided if this was a true weakness or to the contrary, was genius, in that it conveyed the emotional distance that existed between Jake and Kate.
There are several secondary characters in Firestorm, including some that have appeared in other books of the Black Gold series. We get to meet Jake's entire family who I don't think were previously introduced, except for Shana. It was really nice getting to see Shana and Bear (Love Slave & Forever Enslaved) again, and that they're still crazy about each other. They're my favorite couple in the series so far, and must be a favorite of Ann Jacobs as well. She has given them their own love scene in every story of the series they've appeared in up to this point, and I must say it was quite spicy. In my opinion, it was better than Jake and Kate's scenes, because it conveyed a depth of emotion that the other couple's didn't. Also Blake (Another Love) had a brief appearance as Jake's friend and attorney. The information on the proper ordering of the Black Gold series is kind of sketchy, maybe because it appears that Ms. Jacobs wrote them out of order. I had previously thought that Blake's book came later in the series, but since it was mentioned in Firestorm that he was already happily married to Erin, the heroine of Another Love, I may have to revise my previous knowledge of the series. I can at least say that Firestorm had no discernible spoilers for Another Love.
Generally speaking, I've enjoyed Ann Jacobs writing style, although Firestorm had a few weak spots that I thought could have been better. In my opinion, the prose needed more detailed descriptions of the settings as well as character appearances and gestures to really make it come alive in my mind's eye. There were also a few continuity errors and a couple of minor plot holes. When Kate was knocked unconscious by the arsonist, I found it odd that Jake called for the sheriff, but not an ambulance. Additionally, it was a little unusual that Jake wanted to take Kate to meet his family when he wasn't serious about her. I also feel compelled to warn pro-choice advocates that Jake constantly refers to abortion as the killing or destroying of his child. I didn't personally have any issues with this, but to anyone who might, I'll say in his defense that Jake wanted desperately to be a father and felt utterly betrayed by his wife going behind his back to get an abortion. Still, he is very assertive and bitter about it to the point that I know some readers could be off-put if not outright offended. On the up side, I really enjoyed the fact that Jake's family has become this melting pot of different cultures, religions and backgrounds, and yet everyone gets along really well. Overall, Firestorm was a decent read even though I couldn't fully get into it due to Jake's personality and him holding back his love from Kate for so long. However, I'm still interested in continuing with the Black Gold series to learn more about the other characters yet to come. Although I don't know if they'll put in any more appearances, I certainly wouldn't object to seeing more of Shana and Bear either.
Note: Aside from the explicit language, the style and tone of the sexual encounters between the hero and heroine of this book are on par with steamy mainstream romances. However, there is one love scene between secondary characters that involves the moderate description of nipple piercings and the brief use of a cock ring.
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