The mark of any good book is when you have to sequester yourself in your room and scream, “Don’t come in! The house is on fire!” whenever someone knocks. Well, the sequestering yourself in your room thing, at least. But Dancia Winter’s Smoke and Ashes did make that exact moment possible for me, so I stand by my statement.
I usually can guess the end of a book before I’ve even started it, but Smoke and Ashes completely caught me off guard. I’ll try to explain why without spoiling anything.
First of all, I had no idea who the arsonist was. At points I think I suspected every character in the entire book, including the hero, the heroine, and the dog. And frankly, I’m not even sure if there was a dog.
Secondly, by reading the back cover I was entirely expecting Heather to have ran off from her abusive husband months ago, hiding away in Montana when she met this new neighbor of hers. I was not expecting to get a solid look into Heather’s relationship with her husband, let alone such a realistic one. What type of sick man doesn’t let his wife eat cake?
Answer: a very realistic sadist.
Especially if he’s allowed to eat cake.
The heroine still being married was an extremely interesting twist that I haven’t seen often, and it adds a complicated, interesting level to the book that makes it even more satisfying at the end when everything comes together.
Another thing that really impressed me about this book was the level of research that faded seamlessly into the background. It’s one thing to do research on bombs, which Danica totally did, but another to bring to life a real-life town like Missoula. Having lived there for two years, I was occasionally startled by the references to mundane real-life things like the Missoulian newspaper that most Missoulians take for granted. This added a level of reality for me that made reading the novel almost like reading the world’s most interesting newspaper.
Except with a lot more romance, of course.
Dancia Winters managed to create a couple of entirely imperfect, realistic people who are completely perfect for eachother if they can just manage to overcome the obstacles between them. In the end, the relationship between the protagonists is what draws the reader in and keeps them turning the page until the pulse-racing finish.
Altogether, I would strongly recommend this book. Danica Winter promises to deliver, “Real Life Danger and Everyday Heroes,” and in Smoke and Ashes, she more than lives up to expectations.
* I have met Danica a couple of times and she is a wonderful person as well. I don’t believe this has biased my review, but it’s always a good thing to point out.