Pandora's Box

The Burning Point

Mary Jo Putney
2000, Contemporary Romance
Berkley, $6.99, 335 pages, Amazon ASIN 042517428X
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

The Burning Point received a staff review and was also the focus of an At the Back Fence discussion with the author.

In The Burning Point, Mary Jo Putney's first contemporary romance, heroine Kate Corsi returns to her home in Baltimore when her father dies unexpectedly. Her father's unusual will decrees that she must live with her ex-husband Patrick Donovan for a year, or she and her brother will not receive their inheritances. Kate has always wanted to have a hand in the family demolition business, and this could be just the chance she has been waiting for. But she will also have to face old demons as she and Donovan work through the problems that drove them apart.

Linda:  Mary Jo Putney's first foray into contemporary romance The Burning Point, for me, was a huge success. Putney proves that a good author with great characters and a wonderful story to tell, can set it in any time she feels is right. Also, Putney captures the "feel" of places like Baltimore, Las Vegas and San Francisco. She brings as much detail to the contemporary environment as she does to her historicals. I never thought I would be interested in the details of demolition, but I found them fascinating.

Blythe:  Actually, the information about demolition was one of the few parts of the book that I enjoyed. This surprised me, because I am a big Putney fan. Unfortunately, I didn't care for the hero at all, and I found the suspense plot to be tacked on and too easy to guess.

Linda:  I came to really admire the hero, Patrick Donovan. I do not remember ever reading about a hero quite as flawed as this one, and really liking him. His ex-wife Kate fled due to his behavior and they have been apart for 10 years. My first impulse was to dislike him and think MJP was crazy for bringing Kate back to this situation. But, when he opened up and explained his childhood and the therapy and support groups he had attended, I came to admire him. This is a man who dealt with his mistakes and his past. None of us is perfect and forgiveness should be out there for those who struggle to change. I really liked that aspect of the book. After all, what incentive for change would there be for those from dysfunctional families, if there were no possibility of forgiveness or reconciliation?

I agree that the suspense doesn't seem very suspenseful, but the story is interesting and the couple is fascinating.

Blythe:  Usually when this story is told, the heroine flees her abuser and the hero is a new person who helps her overcome her fears about love and intimacy. You have to give Putney credit for trying something new here, but I felt Kate trusted Donovan much too quickly. Part of me never did forgive Donovan, and I was surprised that Kate - and her friends and family - were able to do that so easily. The reaction of Kate's mother seemed particularly unbelievable.

Linda:  Blythe, I think that Kate trusted because she saw the changes in him and also because he had done all of the hard work of recovery during the years they were apart. Since her mother only learned of it in hindsight, that made it easier for her to forgive him. Plus, bear in mind that her mother had seen him daily for the 10 years they were apart and had great affection for him due to his relationship with Kate's father.

Blythe:  Yes, but he had also hit her "little girl," and it takes her all of five seconds to forgive him. She hardly even thinks about it. Her reaction just didn't seem to be very parent-like to me. But then I didn't find Kate's father Sam to be a very good parent either. He rejects his only son and won't let his daughter work in the company. He likes Donovan better than his own natural children. Yet everyone talks about him as if he were some kind of god. I found his chauvinism intolerable.

You know, we'll probably never agree on this - maybe it's a generational thing.

Linda:  I don't mind agreeing to disagree on this one, but wonder if our difference is experiential rather than generational? I have watched others struggle with rehab and support groups and know what a tough job it is trying to change.

Since we are talking about Kate's mom, I did want to mention that I liked the secondary romance between her and the lawyer. It was sweet and touching for these two old friends to find love when left alone by the death of their spouses. MJP also dealt extremely well with Kate's brother Tom's life and the repercussions of his choices on both his family and his life.

MJP is great at catching character and detail - even the cats come to life. Not long ago I read a Regency that had a cat as a main character and I realized the author never even told us the color of the cat. In TBP one can "see" the cats.

Blythe:  LOL - I think MJP must be a "cat person" herself. Actually, I liked the secondary romance with Kate's mom and the lawyer too, so much that I would have preferred for the book to be about them. Every time the focus of the story shifted to them (Mom & Charles) I found myself wishing it would stay there.

Linda:  I liked them too, but I really came to like Kate and Donovan. What was really interesting was the detail that MJP went into when Donovan was describing his childhood and the lessons he learned there. Also his realization of what alcohol was doing to him and the excuse it gave him for losing self-control. This is a man who has spent 10 years wrestling with his demons and has come out the other side a whole person. I found this admirable and I could understand Kate giving him another chance with their marriage. This couple never stopped loving each other, but they couldn't be together until Donovan found the strength to undertake painful self-examination and Kate grew up. It was also clear his behavior was not part of an on-going pattern. He was horrified and filled with grief at losing Kate and he did something about it.

I did love Kate's enthusiasm for blowing things up; there was a lot of symbolism there in resurrecting something good for the future on the rubble of the past.

Blythe:  I liked the demolition stuff too, but it was the only thing I found interesting about Kate and Donovan. Kate mostly came across as bland to me, and I guess I never was convinced that Donovan had really reformed. He went to meetings and stopped drinking, but he still seemed to have a big problem with his temper, and I wasn't convinced that he had overcome that. Frankly, I was still worried for Kate, and also for their future kids. If Donovan was able to lose his temper that easily with his wife, who hadn't actually ever done anything, what would he do when his kids really tested him?

Linda:  I think that it was shown, when they were in San Francisco and he thought she was out with someone else, that he had conquered his temper. Remember how he sat on the couch, realizing that even punching the pillows would be losing control, and he just sat there with his head in his hands until his mind cleared? Obviously, his therapist had taught him temper control techniques and he used them. I guess since I have someone close to me going through rehab, I want to hope that forgiveness and a chance at life and love are there for the person who genuinely tries to change. But, you are certainly right, Donovan is a gutsy choice for a hero and I admire MJP for taking the chance. This book is a keeper for me; I really liked it a lot. Very engrossing and the entire "feel" of the book just rang true for me.

Blythe:  I think we readers can be a demanding lot. We complain if writers stick to the same formula again and again, but we complain even louder if they make a huge change - especially if they move from historicals to contemporaries. I didn't mind that MJP was trying something new, but to me this book read like an experiment. The handling of the suspense plot seemed off right from the beginning. I couldn't understand why Kate and Donovan weren't a little more suspicious about Sam's death. I guessed the villain and his motives from the moment his name was introduced, mostly because he never had any competition as far as suspects were concerned. I would like to have seen this sub-plot either developed more, or dropped entirely.

Linda:  I spotted the villain at the beginning too and did think that Kate and Donovan should have been more suspicious as the "accidents" worldwide mounted. Perhaps the mystery could have been padded a bit, but one can also see that Kate and Donovan were so occupied trying to adjust to each other that they didn't question things as much as they probably should have.

Blythe:  What did you think of Kate's friends? Though The Burning Point was a disappointment for me, Putney hasn't lost me as a reader. I am curious to see a contemporary without an abuser as a hero, since I couldn't get over that. It looks like there will be several sequels about Kate's friends from school, and I'm looking forward to them.

Linda:  I liked her friends a lot and it looks like there is enough material there to keep us happy for several books. I will also look forward to seeing Kate and Donovan again. What I think I'm noticing here is that you were disappointed in her choice of hero, and not that she will continue in the contemporary mode?

Blythe:  Yes, that's right. Though I prefer historicals as a rule, I enjoy a well-written contemporary now and then, and I was interested to see where MJP would go with this one. Some of the dialogue did sound a little more historical-like to me, but I didn't mind that much. I found the hero to be the biggest stumbling block, which is why I am eager to read her next contemporary - even though The Burning Point didn't work for me.

Linda:  So, for our ratings, I would highly recommend this fascinating book with its flawed hero - those who love tortured scarred alphas should love Donovan. I don't usually like that type of character, but the last two months' books have shown me that a skilled author can make me understand and love a hero I would have thought I would hate. Michel, the scarred male prostitute in Robin Schone's The Lover, and now Patrick Donovan, the emotionally scarred hero of The Burning Point are both men who have struggled to deal with their pasts and I believed in their redemption. As I recall you weren't convinced as to the long-term happiness of Anne and Michel either? So, for you these authors obviously have not completely made the sale. But, much to my surprise I came to really like both men.

Blythe:  I hate to be the "bad guy" two months in a row, but you're right, this isn't one I'd recommend. In fact, if I had to choose between Michel, the male prostitute, and Donovan the reformed abuser, I would probably feel safer with Michel! Discussions on The Burning Point really got heated with the May 15th issue of ATBF, and there are a lot of abused women out there who found the book upsetting. I've never been abused, but I just wasn't able to forgive this hero. So unfortunately, this book would receive a low rating from this particular Putney fan.

Linda:  Well, I don't know about feeling safer with Michel, but you would probably have more fun! <g>

Blythe:  I would only have more fun with Michel if he left the food in the kitchen. <g>

Linda:  Seriously, I guess that I do believe in the concept of personal redemption. If people don't have a chance to redeem themselves what impetus do they have to change?

I can understand how abused women would have a problem with Donovan and Kate's reconciliation though, as it is hard to get past the pain. Unfortunately most battering men never go through the major self-examination and treatment that Donovan did. Also, I think one needs to remember that over ten years have passed. Years in which Donovan has had treatment and has never abused another living soul. Surely, that counts too?

Again, I think Putney made a gutsy move in writing Donovan and not downplaying the abuse of Kate at all. Very well done in my opinion. I can hardly wait to read the one about the Hollywood couple - talk about a hunk hero! Also, before we close I want to mention the gorgeous cover with it's "peephole" and stepback cover. This book really caught my eye in the airport in Seattle.

Blythe:  Personally, I believe that we can be forgiven for almost anything, but when it comes to heroes for me there are certain lines that just can't be crossed, especially in a contemporary romance. The minute Donovan hit Kate, he crossed that line for me.

I do like books about forgiveness; one that sticks out in my mind is The Forgiving Hour by Robin Lee Hatcher. I would like to have seen Kate forgive Donovan, and Donovan forgive himself . . . then have them both go their separate ways with other people. For example, Alec, Kate's friend, and the woman Donovan had been seeing.

Linda:  LOL, your ending sounds like a gay friend of mine who read Amanda Quick's Seduction - he said it was good, but he would have liked to see the hero leave with his best friend and the heck with the whiny woman! I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one too and hopefully next month you won't have to be the "bad cop" in our little dialogue. We will be discussing new-to-me author, Adele Ashworth, and her upcoming release, Winter Garden.

Blythe:  I read and enjoyed My Darling Caroline when it first came out, but I missed the Stolen Charms, which is somewhat connected to Winter Garden. So I'll be reading both of those for next month.

Linda:  Oh, I will have to hunt it up too - I like to read books in a series in order. At least we will be back to historicals, which are your forte. I really don't have much of a preference for setting. I am easy to please just give me a great story, wonderful couple and a happy ending - is that asking too much? <g> Till next month.

Blythe:  I'll be looking forward to it.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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