Reviewed by Meka
After a devastating fire rages through Rob Monroe’s rural Georgia community, the prime suspect is the pretty local baker. The blaze started in Kari Hendrix’s shop–and she just confessed to being convicted of arson as a teenager. Rob knows in his heart that Kari’s innocent. So what is she running from? Who’s she protecting? As he digs deeper, he uncovers the truth about an unresolved crime in his own family. Now he has to make a choice. Is he going to let the past destroy his chance for a future with Kari?
Lately, I have been on a quest to figure out just what publishing imprint would have the type of books that I am most likely to read. I have never really paid attention to imprints or really, to the publisher either. If the blurb catches my attention, then I just jump in with both feet. I decided to start with Harlequin, company of the zillion imprints and settled on a book from the Heartwarming category and found myself pleasantly surprised and a little dazzled by the book.
When the story opens, Kari’s bakery has burned, along with a good portion of the shops nearby. This is where she meets Rob, the arson investigator who comes to speak with her. Their attraction is immediate, and rather unwelcome. Kari hides her suspicions about who she believes set the fires, while Rob works hard to uncover the truth about what really happened. Together, they have to somehow figure out how to navigate both attraction and the investigation while staying true to who they are as people.
I really enjoyed Kari a lot as a character. She’s sweet, kind, has found passion in what she does, and has pulled her life together since her release from juvenile hall. When she was fourteen, she confessed to arson, something that has stayed with her to this day. She has fought hard to have a bakery and loved what she did there, so the loss of it is palpable. She is fiercely loyal, far too loyal for this reader, but I don’t want to spoil things. Let’s just say that there is a certain area in her life where I wish she had more of a backbone. A lot of people did wrong by her, including the person who should have protected her the most as a child. So before I completely spoil this whole book, I better move on to the hero.
Rob is so….awesome! In a genre that caters to alpha men (I hate the alphaholes but love me some alpha men, y’all), he is a refreshing change. He is a take charge kind of guy, but he wants to do the right thing by the heroine. he pushes, but only to figure out what is going on and to find out just what Kari is hiding about the bakery fire and her past. His father was killed by an arsonist, and his dedication to discover the truth about that is unwavering. I started to really wonder how these two would make a romance work, and I wanted Kari’s truth to come out so badly.
Rob and Kari together was sweet. She was so hesitant about starting anything with Rob, and he was just persistence personified. He was patient, kind, caring, tender, helpful, and other really schmoopy adjectives that warmed my heart. Rob was uncertain about a relationship with Kari, especially while attempting to solve the mystery of the fire, and the day to day stuff that they did together was both humorous and adorable. There is a scene in the story where he helped Kari make a wedding cake. That particular scene just cemented this story for me because it was unusual and just plain fun.
The cornerstone of this specific imprint is small towns and family. This is my catnip! I enjoyed meeting Rob’s family. There is so much love and support there. Of course, there is also a great deal of teasing, and we get to see a lot of that throughout the story.
Kari’s family was the low point of the story for me. Not because they were terribly written, but with a selfish and self-centered brother plus a clueless mother, I found it difficult to stand the way that Kari just took what was dished out. While reading, I inserted some words in the story which would have taken this from Heartwarming to whichever imprint allows the most cursing, because I was so frustrated on the heroine’s behalf.
I will just say that toward the end, the redemption of Kari’s mom fell far short. After what she did to her daughter, for me, it was too little too late. I do not understand how a parent could sacrifice the health and happiness of her child the way that she did, and even though there’s a scene in the end where she makes a hard decision and does the right thing, I didn’t care. in fact, she gets the worst mom ever award from me.
The end was kind of abrupt to me. I didn’t know how Rob and Kari would make it after some truths came out, and I would have liked to see them have more page time with actually being in love, but that’s likely just the nature of the category. It isn’t the book’s fault that I want sweeping canvases. But still, I would have liked just a teeny bit more in the wake of the resolution’s aftermath.
I enjoyed the story despite the low points, though. Two characters that were easy to cheer on for their HEA, a plethora of desserts, a small town in Georgia, some fun side characters, and a mystery made this great. I want a book for Rob’s brother! He needs one!
Because this is a Heartwarming novel, there are no sexytimes or cursing. It was kind of refreshing. I don’t know who I am anymore, but this is definitely a category that I’d read again. I give Out of the Ashes a B.