Review: Controlled Burn by Erin McLellan


Note: This ARC was provided by Riptide Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

“One day, sweetheart, you’re going to learn that there is room for both. There is room for Diego and your memories of him and your love for him. But there is also room for a healthy new relationship. Your love for Diego and your memories will always be there, but they won’t rule you. One day, when enough time has passed, you’ll fall in love with s-someone else and it won’t hurt so much. The new love won’t compete with your love for him.” He took a shuddery breath and let it out slowly through his nose. “But I don’t want to wait, and I deserve better than second fiddle.”

Well now... Color me impressed because debut author Erin McLellan's first foray into the wild and wacky world of published books has just made her presence felt, and it's a presence that looks to be a shimmering light that I have no doubts will shine bright as she gives more heartfelt stories for us to devour. Controlled Burn is currently a standalone. I'm using the term "currently" because I'm hoping that a number of notable supporting characters will get their stories told. So, maybe it can be (or already is) a series starter or the jump-off point for one or two more spin-offs or companion novels, yes? Paging Erin McLellan and Riptide Publishing! But I digress... On to my review!

When Jared Smith was eighteen, life as he knew it ended. He's lost the only boy he's ever loved, and blame has fallen squarely on his shoulders--from the unexpected outing of their sexuality and secret relationship to the implosion of his parents' marriage. At an age where the future held promise, all he wanted to do was to get away from everything that suddenly became his past and to try and be present somewhere else. With a new name in a small college town in a different state, Joel Smith has kept his head down for three years, with just his housemate to call "friend" and his encounters with other guys limited to hook-ups. That is, until Paulie McPherson came along.

It's Paulie who's there by his side when Joel realizes news articles regarding what happened three years ago to his boyfriend are to be used in a case study, and it's Paulie who begins to open his mind up once again to the idea of being "more" with someone else. But it's his heart that's giving Joel pause. How can he truly give all of himself to Paulie--a guy who deserves to put him first--when he can't even be honest about who he is? How can he give his heart to this twenty-three-year-old man who knows all too well what it's like not to be loved and accepted for who you are when his heart still belongs to the eighteen-year-old boy whose death continues to haunt him to this day?

I needed a couple of tissues while reading Controlled Burn because Joel and Paulie's story as a couple is intertwined with their back stories as teenagers, the effects of which still affect them in their twenties. My heart broke for Joel and everything he's had to endure. He never truly had the opportunity to mourn the passing of this boy he loved for years and with whom he was in a secret relationship with for two years before one simple text read while driving ended it all. The memory of Diego is like a specter that lingers over Joel and between Joel and Paulie. Then there was Joel's whole family situation, which is something that Paulie's own history painfully reflects.

It was be easy to become frustrated with Joel wavering time and again when it came to his feelings for Paulie and how all he had to do was admit to himself that he loved the guy. The thing is, there was so much more that was taken from Joel than Diego alone, so I got why he was as hesitant as he was. Moving on is easier said than done. Aside from Joel and Paulie's relationship, there was also the state of their respective relationships with their parents and those were heartrending aspects to this book as well. After all, your parents are the ones who should love and accept you first and most, and being pushed away by those who should pull you in is quite gut-wrenching.

Erin McLellan had a story and she told it well, showing me with this debut release that she's got the writing chops. She's given us two main characters who are broken in one way or another, and while their love may help heal some of their wounds, it truly was up to each of them to decide that it was time to move forward. The part of the book that I quoted for this review is the second half of this powerful paragraph that has Paulie pointing out what Joel failed to realize early on, and it was a heartbreaking but necessary turning point in their story. I'm giving Controlled Burn five-plus stars, and I have my fingers crossed for Travis's, Alex's, and maybe even David's stories in the future! ♥

Date Read: 14 August 2017

Learn more about Erin McLellan.

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