The drive between Chicago, IL and San Diego, CA is a long one. Quite a bit of that journey is spent in very wide-open spaces – plains, prairies, deserts. There’s not a lot to see, really – particularly if one has traveled that route multiple times. So, I’m really glad that I had some audio books in my Audible library. I’ve already shared my review of Starting From Scratch by Georgia Beers, which I read 3 1/2 years ago and listened to last week.
I was coming up on the end of my drive back to Chicago. I had, maybe, 5 hours left to drive and it was getting late in the evening. This was my longest day of driving, by far. I just wanted to get home and not have to stop at a hotel. So, I needed something to keep me awake. I turned to Melissa Brayden and Firework. You see, Firework is a novella that originally appeared in Sweet Hearts (published by Bold Strokes Books) along with novellas by Rachel Spangler and Karis Walsh. So, from a length perspective, this was the perfect choice for listening during my final hours of the trip. It was also my second time listening to this book, so I knew it was one that would keep me engaged while I was driving and keep me from dozing off.
The truth has many shades…
Lucy Danaher was born into a life of privilege and has always enjoyed the view from the top. She spends her days running Global NewsWire, a Fortune 500 company, and her nights at all the trendy San Diego hot spots. When the Union-Tribune decides to run a feature story on her company, Lucy’s thrilled to oblige with an interview. But when the reporter arrives, it turns out the story she’s writing is anything but flattering. The fact that she’s irritatingly gorgeous only adds salt to the wound.
Kristin James loves her job, and as a committed journalist will go out of her way to tell the most balanced story possible—even if it means going up against Lucy Danaher, that striking and stubborn-as-hell CEO. She just has one problem. No matter what she does, she can’t seem to get Lucy off her mind…
I’ve been a fan of Brayden’s writing since reading her first publication, Waiting in the Wings. (My review of that book, by the way, is my most viewed post – even 4 years later, I get at least 15 hits on that entry every week.) With each novel, she solidifies my fandom. Brayden writes lovely romances that just make me feel good while I’m reading and after I finish reading. For me, that’s a major goal for the romance writer – make the reader feel good.
I’ll be honest here – it took me a long time to get on the audio book bandwagon. Most people would think I’d have been more eager for audio books when one considers my background in the performance of literature. But, I think that is precisely why it took me a while – I’m really picky and I’m much more critical of book narrators than many people. I mean, I listened to Jim Dale narrate Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and thought it was just “okay”. So, yeah, I’m pretty critical.
Well, let me say right here, right now that the narration for Firework is probably one of the best (if not the best) performances I’ve ever heard. Admittedly, the fact that the narrator, Kristen Barnes, is Brayden’s sister is definitely advantageous – she has unique insights into the author’s thought process. Barnes “gets” Brayden. It’s pretty awesome. I’m a strong advocate for Barnes narrating every book Brayden writes.
Barnes did a nice job keeping all of the characters distinct without turning them into caricatures, which is so easy to do sometimes. The subtle changes Barnes makes in tone, pace, etc. are just enough to make it clear who is speaking at any given time. The beauty of it, too, is that Barnes’ narration matches the way Brayden writes. I’ve long believed Brayden to be an absolute expert at writing dialogue. It’s sharp. It’s witty. It’s realistic. It’s fun. But more than that, it fits the characters wonderfully. Barnes recognizes this and uses it in the narration. Nice! Overall, Barnes hits all the right notes. The narrative passages are paced well; characters’ internal dialogue is clear and easily distinguished; the performance is wonderfully nuanced and moves smoothly through all of the emotions displayed in the story.
Without giving too much away, we do get to see some characters from a previous Brayden romance. It’s nice to visit those folks a couple of years later and see how things are progressing. I like that about Brayden’s books – she let’s her characters visit in some small way in subsequent novels. It’s never necessary to have read the characters’ originating novel, but if you have, the cameo is a nice touch – and it keeps ALL of Brayden’s characters alive and in our minds. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! Really smart marketing, if you ask me. (You did ask me, right?)
I really liked the development of Lucy and Kristin’s relationship. It had some very interesting moments of conflict, with that wonderful and constant undercurrent of attraction. It creates a fun tension that makes the burgeoning relationship interesting. And when that undercurrent of attraction rises completely to the surface, well, yeah, there are definitely fireworks! I always appreciate the way Brayden writes a love scene. There’s enough description to make me feel the passion in the story, but not so much that I have to pause and try to figure out the logistics. There’s little worse than being pulled out of a story because you’re not sure if a human body can actually do what’s being described.
If I had one real criticism for Firework it would be that it is a novella rather than a novel. I do believe that there is more to be said about this relationship – from the beginning when Lucy and Kristin first meet – and these characters. There is room to delve more deeply into each character and how they move through the various stages of attraction and conflict.
In general, this is just a really nice addition to Brayden’s oeuvre. So if you’re looking for a good read, but you’re short on time, this is a great one to choose. Whether you go with Kindle or Audible (or both), you’re very likely to have a good experience.