Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Sometimes good boys do bad things.
Firefighter Nicky O’Brian’s life is falling to pieces. His mother is dying from cervical cancer and only has a short time to live. The stress and pain of trying to ease his mother’s suffering at home, attending to her medical and emotional needs, is tearing Nicky apart. Long hours at work, and the emotional strain of his home situation is pulling Nicky under. To escape, Nicky hunts for a quick sexual gratification near the gay bars in town, hoping to lose himself if only for a moment.
Michael Larson’s life is full and overflowing. Michael has just finished up his undergrad degree and is starting a masters in sociology in September. He works in a local Seattle coffee shop and when not busy with friends, then his mother is sure to appear with unwanted advice, extra produce from her garden and lots of love. He also loves to run. While on a run by the gay bars in town, Michael watches as a hot guy on a motorcycle cruises the area for a quick encounter. But what was supposed to be fun, fast, and anonymous turns into something unexpected and life altering when the man turns out to be a Seattle firefighter, Nicky O’Brian.
Nicky and Michael find their attraction to each other growing when they run into each other again at a Firefighter Picnic. But huge problems loom for both. Nicky is deep in the closet and with his mother critically ill and highly religious, Nicky is not sure he will ever be able to tell her that he is gay. Michael has sworn never to date a closeted man again after the painful relationship with his last closeted boyfriend imploded. But as Nicky’s mother’s condition becomes dire, Michael must choose between his promises to himself and Nicky, who is clearly in need of support and friendship is not more.
“Nothing but Smoke” by Daisy Harris is Book 3 of the ‘Fire and Rain’ series about a group of Seattle firefighters and their lovers. I am new to both this author and her series, so I am entering at Nothing But Smoke. That fact didn’t seem to present any problem for me with either the story or the characters when entering after two stories and I don’t think it will for the other readers as well.
Seattle is the location for this story and series and Daisy Harris works many of the local establishments and iconic landmarks into her story to give it a wonderful feel as far as atmosphere and setting is concerned. I love it when the author demonstrates a deep knowledge of the town her characters live in as the nuances and local flavor make it that much more authentic in bringing this story to life.
Harris’ characters are touching and real as are the situations they find themselves in, particularly Nicky and his mother, Lydia, as well as Michael and his mother, Ailene. Two very different son and mother combinations and the juxtaposition between them is startling. The scenes between the critically ill mother and her son are profoundly moving and believable. I don’t know where Harris’ obtained her knowledge of the care and physicality of a terminally ill cancer patient , but they are so emotionally wrenching that it hurts . Harris’ descriptions of the crippling, painful manner in which Nicky’s mother is failing and it’s debilitating effect upon her son are the most heartbreaking elements of this story. Nicky’s grief over the impending loss of his only parent and the mother he loves is visceral in its realness and denial. Most readers will be awash in tears as Nicky and Michael survey her room with the objective of packing up her things to take to a hospice. In fact, this whole aspect of the story is so strong, so compelling, that everything else almost fades in comparison.
Another strong and equally believable element here? Nicky’s closeted status and his inability to add to his mother’s pain by declaring his homosexuality to her in her final days. All the arguments, internal or otherwise, are clearly stated here. To let a mother know who her son really is versus the peace of mind of a deeply religious Catholic woman who is dying. Do you do what is best for you or for the woman who raised you? An added stressful complication for Nicky is that his mother is almost always being attended to by a family priest who sees homosexuality as a sin. These issues alone could have filled this book.
What this story needed more of to be a romance is well….a romance or believable love story. I loved Michael and Nicky as friends feeling their way towards each other through the emotional turmoil and struggle of Nicky’s situation. I found that to be authentic, compelling, and practically perfect. To use sex as a mean to forget or an outlet, I found that believable too. But for Nicky and Michael to fall in love in a short amount of time and under those conditions? Not as the author has framed it. I could see it if they realize that the situation was pushing those emotions onto them but it’s not the time for a romance, and the author makes no attempt to convey one here. That case of instant love flew in the face of all the other painful realitiies that Harris dumps upon these wonderful characters and I missed the precision that Harris used with all the other aspects of her story. Just look at how carefully Harris created the character of Michael’s vegan, gluten free, earth mother Aline. From her bounteous fruit bearing plants outside to her dubious kitchen abilities, this wonderful, opinionated “no bras for her” woman is a force to be reckoned with and you love her immediately even if a small voice inside is telling you how happy you are that she isn’t your mother. Her impact is decisive, her personality forceful and loving. I believed in her 100 percent. And I needed that same feeling for the love between Nicky and Michael. I believed in their need, their attraction, and even the caring Michael demonstrates towards Nicky…just not an abiding love. However, I adored these characters so much that I could shove that aside and concentrate on everything else. Other readers might find their need for each other and attraction deep enough to call it love and be fine with the romance element here. I will leave that up to you.
If you are searching for a book about firefighters in love, I am not sure this is the story for you. The firefighter aspect is missing here other than the occasional mention of Nicky’s profession and the other members of his station house in a couple of scenes. They might be more prevalent in the stories leading up to this one. I just don’t know. But Nothing But Smoke is such a strong, emotional story that I will certainly search out the others in the series as well as other books by Daisy Harris. There are so many outstanding elements here, so many great characters that I recommend this story to you. Just be prepared for a story as much about loss as it is about love. And keep those tissues handy.
Cover by Kanaxa, Incredible cover from the tone and to design, you can almost feel the loss….
To enter the Daisy Harris Nothing But Smoke book release contest, visit here.
ebook, 214 pages
Published June 10th 2014 by Samhain Publishing
ISBN 1619221721 (ISBN13: 9781619221727)
seriesFire and Rain #3
Stories in the Fire and Rain series include:
From the Ashes (Fire and Rain, #1)
After the Rain (Fire and Rain, #2)
Nothing But Smoke (Fire and Rain, #3)
November Rain (Fire and Rain, #4)