Sparks Fly by Daisy Jerico

Sparks Fly by Daisy Jerico
Publisher: Prism Book Group
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (79 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Carlisle’s dream of attending culinary school goes up in flames when she accidentally burns down her landlord’s shed while cooking ribs for a contest. Winning the cook-off would have provided enough money for tuition. Now she needs to win to replace the damaged building. Carlisle resigns herself to putting her future on hold while dealing with the problems of the present.

The hot fire chief who puts out the fire makes it clear she’s used up precious resources with her carelessness. He’s furious that she’s wasted his time when he needs every second to track down an arsonist who is escalating dangerously.

The far more serious problem is that Carlisle’s small fire draws the attention of the arsonist who doesn’t like anyone stealing the limelight. He comes after her with a frightening single-minded focus. Can Carlisle save herself and their budding romance from the flames of a maniac?

Carlisle has big dreams. She wants to go to culinary school in New York, to get out of her small town and really start to live her life. Winning the monetary prize of the barbecue contest is her ticket out of there and into school. When a small back-yard fire gets out of control, Carlisle can smell her dreams going up in the flames. Chet is a fireman and his team responds promptly to the call. There’s an arsonist loose and Chet knows it’s only a matter of time before there’s a dead body among the gutted homes popping up more and more frequently. Despite the seriousness of both their situations – the sparks fly between Carlisle and Chet, and soon the fire burning between them is too intent to ignore.

This is a really intense story. Despite the rocky start, it was clear to me from the beginning Chet and Carlisle were meant to be. From Carlisle almost burning her house down, to Chet nearly swallowing his tongue each time they came into contact with each other, their chemistry was burning hot and believable. I also enjoyed how Chet didn’t immediately turn into a slick, suave gentleman the instant he felt attracted to Carlisle. He dropped her peace-offering of brownies, he became stoic and silent in her presence. He wasn’t gauche or silly, but like a realistic man got it wrong a few times before he became easier and more charming around Carlisle.

I loved how the author hit the right balance for me between romantic-hero material and realism (ie not a perfect Prince Charming). It made me enjoy this story all the more. This also isn’t your average “guess it immediately” style of mystery. While the blossoming romance between Carlisle and Chet is front and center the plot of the arsonist is not some tame, throw-away thing. I found myself quite intrigued by it and really enjoying trying to guess who it was. The plot was twisty, with a few curve balls I didn’t see coming. I thought this was a really good blend between romance and suspense, this hit a lot of my checks on an excellent story with great characters and a proper plot I could sink my teeth into.

There is also a really strong secondary cast of characters that I thought helped flesh out the story and added extra depth. While I really enjoyed the plot surrounding the arsonist I was a little disappointed that Carlisle fell so easily (initially) into the “stupid heroine” trap. Thoroughly believable – what woman hasn’t acted crazily a time or two around a man? – it still made me wince when Carlisle took the bait, hook line and sinker. Carlisle generally wasn’t “too stupid to live” though and redeemed herself in my eyes with some of her later actions.

Overall I found this an excellent story, with well-drawn characters and a deep plot and with a mystery not easily solved. The romance is strong, but very sweet (only a few kisses toward the end of the story – nothing too steamy), suitable for those who prefer to see the slow build-up in a relationship and not have their romance graphic or fast-paced. A story I’d share happily with friends, family or even older friends I feel this is sure to appeal to a broad range of readers. Strongly recommended.

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