Burning Gold by Clea Calloway chronicles the emotional conflicts suffered by Jenni Ann Gold Cagle. Jenni Ann is a likable twenty-something artist traumatized by the heinous, random act of violence that claimed the lives of her mother, father and beloved baby sister, Abby.
The story begins immediately following the tragedy as sixteen year-old Jenni Ann is adopted into the family of her maternal Aunt Lyn and Uncle Charles Bennet. In spite of her aunt’s and uncle’s love and commitment to helping her heal, Jenni Ann’s nagging conscience never ceases. She believes her recklessness and neglect on The Night makes her responsible for the murder of her family. Jenni Ann refuses her aunt’s repeated attempts to get her into counseling and instead turns to drugs and sexual promiscuity to numb the unbearable pain of guilt and grief.
With relentlessly, tough love from her aunt and uncle, Jenni Ann is able to pull herself from this toxic abyss of self-destruction. She throws herself into life at a new school and soon discovers a talent and passion for art that leads her to Savannah College of Art and Design and eventual notoriety as a budding southern artist.
Enter, knight in shining armor, Ashton Parker. This handsome journalist unknowingly leads Jenni Ann down an intriguing historical trail, exposing family secrets that raise the very real possibility the crime which robbed her of her family might not have been random… might not have been Jenni Ann’s fault after all.
Clea Calloway cleverly uses flash backs across several decades to intricately weave a tapestry of sub plots that result in effortless reading. This engaging page-turner is predictable enough to keep the reader guessing, but not so predictable that the resolution comes off as trite or contrived.
The story takes place in Atlanta and the North Georgia mountains. Clea Calloway employs simple, descriptive prose to invoke beautiful images that will be especially well received by readers familiar with the region. Jenni Ann’s character is well developed and while I wish there was more depth to both Ashton Parker and Detective Will Hardy, it seems Ms. Calloway intentionally leaves us wanting to get to know these two fellows better. Perhaps this is the author’s subtle way of hinting at a sequel? I suppose I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not! In her debut novel, Ms. Calloway has left me wanting to know what happens next!
From the “cute meet” to the emotional conflicts, the mystery and intrigue, right down to the happily-ever-after ending, Burning Gold has everything you expect to get from contemporary women’s fiction. In spite of its tragic central theme, it is a feel-good, beach-worthy romance reminiscent of Daniel Steele. I give it four out of five stars.