by Shannon McKenna, contemporary (2004)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0560-0
The heroine in Return To Me drives me nuts. Shannon McKenna's last few books have featured very gullible and often just plain idiotic heroines in the lead role, but Ellen "El" Kent, at thirty two, acts like a complete, total nitwit. It's a miracle how she survives this long in this world that we live in. Maybe they just wrap her up in styrofoam and keep her in a pretty porcelein urn until she's thirty.
When they were teenagers, Simon Riley and El had a teenaged love thing going. She was the nice girl of LaRue River Valley, he was the town bad sheep. Predictably, things didn't work out well and he hopped onto a freight train out of Oregon. That is seventeen years ago, but El has never stopped carrying a torch for him. That's love for you.
I don't know why these bad boys always end up being famous global photojournalists, but Simon follows the footsteps of the bad boys in the, oh, last seven or eight Bad Boy Returneth romance novels I've read. Maybe some RWA newsletter lady insists that photojournalism is the new hackneyed metaphor for the hero's lack of stability or something and every author must put this element in their Bad Boy Returneth story. Likewise, El opens a bed and breakfast establishment, just like nearly every Good Girl Waiting heroines I've come across in these stories.
Simon returns to LaRue River Valley when his uncle commits suicide. Before Gus supposedly killed himself, he sent an email to Simon telling Simon that he has found evidences to an event that is related to Simon's tortured past. Simon returns to look into this mystery. Alas, he also realizes that El is getting married to another man soon. That doesn't stop those two from succumbing to the sexual attraction between them though.
Simon is a typical hero by this author - an action man prototype with alpha tendencies. El, however, is as lively as a wet rag. She really doesn't know anything. She doesn't know why Simon left her all those years ago, she doesn't know that he's a famous photojournalist (maybe she can't read the magazines and newspapers to keep up with current events), she doesn't know anything about the man she is marrying, she can't come up with decent reasons as to why she is marrying this man, she doesn't initiate anything, and she only reacts to situations around her. A log tossed around by lumberjacks in those strange competitions they carry out has more vivacity and wit than this woman. She reminds me of those frigid, shrieky, witless survival skill-free heroines with screwed-up priorities in schlocky action movies in the 1980s, the ones that usually stars Michael Paré, a good-looking guy with sexy accent but acts more wooden than the entire Amazon rainforest put together. Unlike those movies though, Ms McKenna's Return To Me lacks the levity to be enjoyable in a campy manner.
The only saving grace is the secondary romance, which, also as per the last few books by this author, features a heroine that is the complete antithesis to everything El stands for. Ms McKenna obviously has found a bestselling formula and she is sticking to it. The love scenes are very nice, but because there is an emotional disconnect between me and the characters (especially with the heroine who comes off like a fragile ragdoll that needs to be coddled and pampered 24/7), the well-done love scenes are like well-choreographed scenes in an adult movie. Nice moves, yes, but where is the love?
The mystery isn't too interesting, the romance is paint-by-numbers Reunion Love Story thingie with everything strictly formula straight down to the hero and heroine's jobs and background, and the heroine is too unconvincing to be an adult. Return To Me is lucky therefore that it has some hot love scenes and a decent secondary romance to salvage matters. Otherwise, the book will be a complete return-to-sender material.
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