Behind Closed Doors

Standing in the Shadows

Return To Me by Shannon McKenna
(Kensington, $6.99, NC-17) ISBN0-7582-0561-9
In a few short years McKenna has garnered many loyal fans among the romantica reading set. This reviewer included. And with Kensington’s habit of releasing certain Brava trade paperback titles in mass market at a later date, that fan base is sure to grow. Just not with this title. It’s a misstep from an author whose stories are normally quite raw, sexually charged and very entertaining.

Simon Riley is back in town. Once the town bad boy troublemaker, he ran away as a teenager and made something of his life. He’s a renowned photographer, having taken pictures in various military hot spots. But it’s the suicide of his Uncle Gus that brings him home. The man who raised Simon was an alcoholic, angry and violent – but suicide? It just doesn’t fit for Simon.

Waiting for Simon’s return is the girl he left behind – Ellen Kent. Now running a bed-and-breakfast and engaged to the most eligible bachelor in town, Ellen quickly reverts to tongue-tied, innocent teenager when she learns Simon is back. She’s never forgotten the misunderstood boy that she lost her virginity too.

Reading Return To Me was like getting sucked into a time portal and thrown back into high school. And no, that’s not a good thing. While supposedly in their thirties, Simon and Ellen both seem emotionally stunted at 16. They literally cannot hold any sort of real adult conversation for the vast majority of the story. Ellen pines for the boy she loved and the man he might have become. Bluntly put, she doesn’t know who Simon is. Simon feels unworthy of the beautiful goddess and spends the entire blessed book holding the world’s longest pity party. Disaster follows Simon and he will surely ruin Ellen’s life if he soils her with his love!

This claptrap spills over into the love scenes – which being a romantica novel there are a few. Simon can’t decide whether to whine about how he’s no good for Ellen or be a dominant Alpha jerk. Ellen just wants to throw herself on the altar of Simon – despite the fact that she’s engaged. Naturally her fiancé is a jerk – but hello? Engaged!

McKenna normally writes her sex scenes with a raw, emotional intensity that makes her the leading lady of Brava (in this reviewer’s mind anyway). However with Return To Me, she gleefully dives into Purple Prose Lake and silly euphenisms abound. It's never a good sign when, while reading a big emotional scene, my eyes bug out of my head and I begin laughing uncontrollably.

That isn’t to say it’s all bad. There are flashes of brilliance here, most notable being Ellen’s mother, Muriel. Frankly, there wasn’t nearly enough of this woman in the book – she’s that fantastic. There’s a scene shared between her and Simon that is so rich that it begs to be read over and over again. There’s also the town slut, Cora, who despite questionable motivations (why she just move out of town is anyone’s guess) is ripe with some fantastic dialogue. Everyone may think the worst of her, but dang if she doesn’t tell them to F-off with a wink and a smile.

Fans will likely want to read Return To Me because of McKenna’s fast-growing reputation. While there are glimpses of something special, this book as a whole is a real mess thanks to an unsatisfying romance, a whiny hero and a heroine so bent on doing the right thing and being nice that she just about sets your teeth on edge. In this case the old adage is true – you really can’t go home again.

--Wendy Crutcher

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