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Joint Review – Burn It Up (Desert Dogs #3) by Cara McKenna

Reviewed by: E and Marlene

E: I have been enjoying McKenna’s very unorthodox “Motorcycle Club” series since the first installment. It is full of murder, conspiracy, friendship, and finding love while trying to save a dying town. One of the other reasons why I enjoy this series is because it doesn’t contain any of the elements I find problematic with more typical Motorcycle Club stories. I got a laugh when McKenna herself had a character poke fun at their title as a Motorcycle Club.

Marlene: Absolutely. The Desert Dogs is definitely a motorcycle club series for people who don’t like motorcycle club series! All the members of the club seem to have discovered that they are kind of past the idea of a motorcycle club, but are definitely not past the idea of losing track of the lifelong friendship that the club created. They are all still there for each other, even when things get very, very tough. The series is all about what binds them, especially the dying town of Fortuity.

E: Casey and Abilene have been two fascinating characters. Outwardly the most “normal” I loved watching Casey’s attempts to hit on Abilene get shut down time and again until he became co-owner of Benji’s Saloon and therefore her boss. Feeling a certain sense of responsibility and decency he kept their encounters business-like even while filling in as a support role after Abilene had her baby. His struggles to turn over a new leaf and avoid the temptation of his past seemed very real. Especially with his doubts about how long he would actually enjoy his life given the combination of his visions and his mother’s dementia. Abilene also fascinated me. Finding out her secrets and learning why she was so determined to be independent and yet so scared of her past was moving.

Marlene: While Casey and Abilene may have seemed normal, under the scrubbed surface they seem to be just as screwed up as the rest of the residents of Fortuity, although in slightly different ways. Their interactions in the earlier book, as Abilene kept shutting Casey down, were kind of cute. Casey hits on everything, but isn’t heartbroken when he gets turned down. His relationship with Abilene develops so many layers because she closes off the easy-sex route. And as Casey finally starts taking responsibility for his life and his actions, helping Abilene becomes a part of his somewhat late growing up. It seemed like once Casey started taking responsibility, he grew up fast. And it was great that he started to “man up” before he finds out for certain whether he’s going down the same path as his mother or not.

Abilene had lots of secrets. I understood and liked the way that having a baby made her finally take responsibility for her own actions. The slow tease about her past occasionally gave me fits. Not because she hadn’t dug herself a deep hole that she needed to climb out of, but because the way that her background was hinted at led me down a path that turned out to be close but not quite as catastrophic for her. Again, what did happen was pretty bad, but the way Abilene hides her name and identity made me think that someone was chasing her.

E: I enjoyed how Casey and Abilene worked through their slow-growing romance for the most part. I did have one part where I thought Abilene was being rather hypocritical, she did mostly redeem herself when she admitted later maybe she wasn’t being fair. Even while I thought that I could understand her immediate reaction because of her past, her self-image, and her attempts to become a different person. I still thought she needed to make amends towards Casey and meet him part way.

Marlene: It made sense in the story that their relationship grew very, very slowly. There’s a lot of trauma in Abilene’s past, and she just had a baby. Casey thinks he can’t be in a serious relationship because he’s afraid of turning out just like his runaway father. And because he might succumb to early-onset Alzheimer’s like his mother. He doesn’t want to make a commitment he won’t keep, or can’t keep. It’s when he starts looking around and realizing that he has already made commitments that he finally becomes an adult is ready for Abilene.

I also felt that Abilene was being a bit of hypocrite, At the same time, finding out that your would-be boyfriend is a happy pyromaniac might be a bit much for anyone to take. But she hangs on to her condemnation a little too long. There’s not a way of saying his secrets are better or worse than hers, but the way that she gets the entire town mobilized to protect her when her ex-con ex comes back, not because he’s really scary but because she’s afraid he’ll reveal her secrets, made her reaction to Casey feel extremely unfair.

E: Despite my mixed feelings towards Abilene I did really admire how McKenna kept her characters from beginning one dimensional even when they were set up as the boogie man or the victim. That complexity is a key role in my reading enjoyment. When I finished reading I did feel almost as if the original starting couple Vince and Kim’s interactions were an afterthought or forgotten. Thinking back on Burn It Up now, I missed seeing the other relationships interwoven into the story instead of briefly mentioned. I would have enjoyed seeing their changes over time. I think this was also the case with Give It All but I didn’t notice it as much. I was more focused on the mystery and conspiracy while I felt relationships were the lodestone in this case.

Marlene: I also had some mixed feelings about Abilene, but then again, Abilene has some mixed feelings about herself. One of things I like about this series is that while the romance may be foreground, there’s a very, very rich background to each story. Several things are rotten in the town of Fortuity, and something happens in each book that moves that story along. In this one, it’s a tragedy that is not resolved at the end of the book, and it really whets my appetite for whatever is coming next. And I say that in spite of the fact that there was more than enough crazy stuff going on that the characters should have seen something like this coming. Abilene’s panic over her ex sent a lot of people looking in the wrong direction for evildoers.

E: I continue to enjoy McKenna’s Desert Dogs series and found Burn It Up a solid entry into the mix. Some new questions were raised, some new tragedies occurred, and some happiness was found. I am looking forward to the next installment and I am also hoping McKenna can help a certain jail releasee also find happiness.
I give Burn It Up a B/B-

Marlene: I like this series, and I don’t otherwise like motorcycle club books. (The only other motorcycle club series I’ve enjoyed is Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights, Inc, but then that motorcycle club isn’t exactly a typical motorcycle club either) The tragedy in this book is not resolved at the end, which means more “interesting times” for the Desert Dogs and the town. The two things I want out of that next installment are some resolution to the tragedy, and for Miah to finally get all the way over Raina and grab some happiness in this mess. The ex-con can get his later.
I give Burn It Up a B

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By Marlene

Marlene is a librarian, ebook advocate, science fiction fan, and RPG fan who lives in Atlanta. She and her husband are owned by three cats, just ask them. She's a geek and a nerd and proud of it. She's also an avid reader of everything, including the back of the cereal box, and has been blogging since April 2011 at Reading Reality and is a reviewer at Library Journal as well as active on Goodreads.

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