Book Review: Aflame by Penelope Douglas

Aflame (Fall Away, #4)Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Book 4 of the Fall Away Serie


From the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Bully, Until You, Rival, and Falling Away comes the sizzling conclusion to the Fall Away series. 

The tables have turned. Now I have the power—and it’s his turn to beg…

Everyone wants to be me.

Maybe it’s the sway of my skirt or the way I flip my hair, but I don’t care. Even though their attention is the last thing I crave, I just can’t stop. I dominate the track, the speed rattles my bones, and the wind and the crowd screams my name.

I’m her. The girl driver. The queen of the race. And I’m surviving—something he thought I’d never do.

They all still talk about him. Did you see Jared Trent on T.V? What did you think of his last race, Tate? When is he coming back to town, Tate?

But I refuse to care too much. Because when Jared does come home, I won’t be here.

Tatum Brandt is gone. I’m someone new.

My Review: ★★★★★ 5 stars!!

Ever since the epilogue/sneek peek at the end of FALLING AWAY (book 3), I was left heartbroken where Tate and Jared are concerned. How could Penelope do this...? After following their relationship grow over three books, she had to go and break them up...? Whyyyy...? **cue in tears and dramatic clutching of the chest**

A small part of me accepted that this was bound to happen given the snippets of conversations and appearances these two made in RIVAL and FALLING AWAY. Jared was indeed feeling kind of lost. In UNTIL YOU (book 1.5) we find out that Tate's dad had a hand in steering him out of trouble. He also suggested that he join ROTC after high school, which Jared did. In the meantime, Tate proceeded with medicine, sure of her ambition to become a doctor. Everyone else around him had a clear (or at least a clearer) path, it seemed, but not him. Although it made sense at that time he joined ROTC, but it was never really the right fit for him.
"I'm twenty, and all I know about myself is that I love Tatum Brandt.
Two years ago I thought that was enough.
I can't be the deadbeat boyfriend doing shit with his life as he figures himself out while she's there to see it.
But I will come back. I'll always want her."

This led us to the cliche, annoying excuse that guys usually give: Jared needed to go find himself. 
"I didn't understand why he needed to leave me to feel whole."

This was what gutted me, really, and I think what every woman who was left behind with the same confusing and annoying reason. For two years, these two lived separately. Jared went off to find out what he wants to do with his life. Tate, unfortunately, went through depression for a few months but she also did her best to move on and accept that her first love did leave her.

As with most romances that had to be cut for several years, things happen during that period that are just heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. I hated reading what happened to these two in those two years...! Tate moving on and dating other guys, finding out that Jared in fact tried to come back home but found out he was too late.. that just hurt me so bad. I just kept sighing and groaning like Gollum over the ring!
"For a year and a half, I warred between what I wanted and what I thought was right. Either take her back and love her forever, or leave her alone...
But when I came home today and saw her again, that was it. The battle in my head wasn't there anymore.
She belonged to me. I was built for her."

As painful as that separation was, readers are really made to understand why Jared had to leave. I think Penelope Douglas did a great job at telling his story and bringing his character development to its final lap. I remember the ending of FALLING AWAY caused a lot of grief among the fans and some of them went as far as declaring that they'll boycott AFLAME. I do hope they'll read this book because they will be assured of Jared and Tate's relationship in the end. More than that, they will understand what had to happen, and that although a few heartbreaking things had to happen, all those events made these two beloved characters become more mature and sure of who they are individually and as a couple.

I don't feel guilty telling you it's an HEA; that one was a given. :) Penelope Douglas had to keep reiterating it on her Facebook page to calm down irate fans. What matters most is the story that lead to the HEA, and how the author told it. 
"I'm a better man, but there's never been a better woman for me."

I really love how Penelope moderated the painful memories. She avoided overly dramatic scenes with screams and lengthy explanations. She did them slowly, bit by bit, and during scenes where the characters are not at the heat of the moment. I especially love that early morning scene when Jared finally tells Tate what he did during those two years, and that he did come back earlier.. they were painting the walls of a room in Tate's house. A very mundane activity. It was a very calm scene, but underneath it all? The emotions were just rolling. Regret, questions, wishful thinking, what if's... they all rolled off the page.

My number one frustration with Jared in this situation--and I raised this question during a fan chat with the author--was that why didn't he just give Tate a promise and assurance that he is coming back? Why didn't he just work it out and say, I will keep in touch several times a week? After all that's what he ended up doing, calling her daily when he first left. Unfortunately, she was already too hurt and distraught to answer his calls and texts. The fact that he didn't come home earlier cemented the conclusion in her head that he really isn't coming back. 

Penelope's response to my question was that Jared did not want to hold her back. Part of me understands that, but the other half is just plain annoyed at him =/ and is frankly calling him stupid.

Thankfully in the book's timeline Jared is already past the "finding himself" stage and is now hell-bent on getting back the love of his life. I still want to beat him with a baseball bat (why the eff didn't you realize this earlier???!), but as usual he wormed his way back to my good graces.
"You want to play? Challenge accepted, Tatum. This time I don't want you hurt, and I don't want you small. I just want you. Do you hear me?" He jerked me into his body. "It will be my ring on your finger and my kids in your belly someday."

So, moving on...

It's not all tears and heartache in AFLAME. :) There's also humor and excitement. For the benefit of new readers, cars and racing have been highlights of these books. Not professional racing, mind you, but the small-town, organized races with dirt tracks and college students as racers and bystanders. In BULLY, Jared was the king of it all. This time, the tracks have a new queen :D and it's Tate. That was one very satisfying development!
"...she was a girl back then, Jared, and she's a woman now.
A man who stands in front of a woman does nothing more than block her view. She needs a man standing next to her, so grow up."

As the final book in a series that I really followed and loved, AFLAME really delivered. It wrapped up loose ends, even gave us a satisfying glimpse at what the future is like for Jared & Tate, Madoc & Fallon, and Jax & Juliet. Even the parents have their own happy endings. 

I recommend not only this book, but this series as a whole. Penelope Douglas is a phenomenal storyteller and a witty writer. Her characters have unique flavors. The setting of Shelbourne Falls and other real-life locations complete the imagery and atmosphere of the Fall Away Series. This series has definitely made it into my list of all-time faves. I hope that there would be more NA romance readers who will read all the books, and hopefully love it as much as I do!

Buy Links

$2.99 (will go up to $3.99 soon!) | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Book 1: Bully

Book 1.5: Until You

Book 2: Rival

Book 3: Falling Away



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