Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Controlled Burn by Erin McLellan

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.

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Book 1
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Riptide Publishing

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

This is a gritty, intense read. The emotion in this story is completely overwhelming in the best possible way. On the surface, Joel and Paulie are typical college kids. But Joel is still mourning the death of his first boyfriend and Paulie is carefully rebuilding his life away from his own family.

This is Joel’s story. When Diego died, Joel didn’t just lose his boyfriend, he lost his family and his place in his small town. When we meet him three years later, he hides his grief behind typical student life. As much as this is a romance, it is also the story of Joel learning to live with his grief as he attempts to finally move on from Diego. Joel’s story is ugly and messy and he hurts Paulie badly as he struggles against his grief.

Paulie is the opposite of Diego. Where Diego was a closeted jock, Paulie left his parents and their fundamentalist Christian world in a shower of glitter. As a friend, Paulie enters Joel’s life suddenly and makes Joel happier than he has been in a very long time. The chemistry between these two is very hot and the relationship is a wonderful mix of sweetness, passion, and angst.

The romance between Joel and Paulie is slow. I loved Paulie so much in this book and I hate the way that Joel treats him when he can’t deal with his grief. At their best, these two make each other stronger. I loved the growth in this story. Beyond the grief and the broken families is the hope and joy that can be found in the best New Adult writing as the characters embrace their potential for change and they realise the potential for a different, better future.

This book made me cry, more than once. First Joel's high school boyfriend is killed in a car accident after reading a text he sent him. Joel changed his name and moved several states away to get as far away as he could. Enter cute classmate Paulie. Oh man, Paulie had his own baggage. These two are so amazing together. They had me laughing and then crying. They both had been through so much before they met and then even after they met they each had their demons. When Paulie finds out Joel's secret you think... whew... everything will be awesome now. NOPE. There is more crap on the way and man, I cried along the way. With Joel and Paulie it was more than just sex, they had a great relationship even though Joel was holding back. Joel came through in the end and I just fell in love with him all over again. I got the feels from this book.

Controlled Burn is New Adult meets coming-of-age, a heavy dose of slow-burn romance, with an added kicker of familial angst. Intense, raw, and gritty, Controlled Burn was also surprisingly erotic.

Joel is struggling, closing everyone out, refusing to get close to them after losing his best friend in a car accident. He's an emotional zombie, dragging his baggage into the future. He's living with the constant ghost shadowing every move he makes, affecting his emotions and actions, terrified to move on, fearing he'll lose the connection to the past. Not only is he in mourning, he feels partially responsible for the accident that took his friend's life, as well as the forced coming out in the aftermath, tainting his best friend's memory while tearing his own family apart.

Slow-burn in the romance department, removing any feeling of insta-love, as Joel makes friends with his would-be suitor. It's obvious Paulie is in love with Joel when he comes on scene – sweet, patient, reliable. Paulie has his own issues, crosses to bear, which affects his interactions as well. Paulie's open to give Joel the time to open up to him without forcing the issue. He speaks his mind and heart, and puts no pressure on Joel.

Controlled Burn was a beautiful, gut-wrenching story, which I connected to on an empathetic level, subconsciously asking myself how all the characters felt in any given situation. One family is dealing with the ramifications of divorce and the aftermath of the accident, and the other is suffering under the strain of oppressive religious beliefs in a large family, drawing mental issues to the fore.

Joel and Paulie journey together in this coming-of-age tale, evolving into adults as they learn from their mistakes along the way.

I highly recommend Controlled Burn and look forward to more by this author in the future.

Erin McLellan writes contemporary romance, often set in the South or Midwest—particularly Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas—with characters that are complex, good-hearted, and sometimes a little quirky. Erin likes her stories to have a sexy spark and a happily ever after.

Erin has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of Oklahoma. She has always enjoyed writing, but becoming a librarian and meeting enthusiastic romance readers helped her find her own writing passion. Now Erin cheerfully writes romance with characters across the LGBTQIA spectrum. A former public librarian, she still enjoys being surrounded by books and readers, but Erin hopes to find her stories on the shelves as well.

Originally from Oklahoma, she currently lives in Alaska with her husband, and spends her time dreaming up love stories set in the Great Plains. She is a lover of chocolate, college sports, antiquing, Dr Pepper, and binge-worthy TV shows.

Connect with Erin

Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Website  ~  Goodreads

Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Controlled Burn (Farm College #1) by Erin McLellan to read and review.

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