Return Engagement
by Lynn Michaels, contemporary (2003)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-8041-1961-9

I feel like an interloper stuck in the wrong party while reading Lynn Michaels' Return Engagement. It has a large cast of characters that all but drown the main characters in cacophony and bustle, and there are so many things happening but too little explanation as to why these things happen, I end up feeling confused when I'm done with this book. There are a lot of unanswered questions about why this story even happened in the first place.

Noah Patrick and Lindsay West were once child actors in the old hit TV show Betwixt And Be Teen, and since this is a romance novel we are talking about, these actors lead a Miserable Life. Lindsay always had a crush on Noah and ends up carrying his child. She then flees Hollywood, marries some disposable codger, loses that codger, and now she is a - what else? - bookstore owner in her hometown of Belle Coeur. Lynn Michaels swears in the afterword that this is the first time the veteran series author has written a secret baby story. Good for her. She has finally joined the darkside.

Noah, meantime, went on to become an alcoholic. When he finally sobers up, he realizes that his career is all but over. Vivienne Varner is an agent whose career is all but over too, and she has big plans of getting Noah and her daughter Lindsay together in a play written by Viv's other daughter Jolie called Return Engagement. Hopefully when this smalltown barn play becomes a success (har har har, only in romance novels, I tell you), they can all proceed to a Betwixt And Be Teen remake and Hollywood will love them all again.

Thing is, Jolie hates Noah and Lindsay and Viv, Lindsay hates Viv and Noah, and Noah can't remember much of his past to hate anybody. Getting the play off the ground will be a miracle in itself. Along the way, there are uncles, aunts, friends, and old coots all running around the story committing mayhem. If trying to get a play off the ground is not enough, the author has to add in many criminally underwritten subplots such as a secret kiddie subplot and a completely unnecessary "Is Lindsay a psychic?" subplot.

It is a good thing if I actually know what is going on, but half the time I don't. Lindsay keep asking why Viv picks Noah to come back here, and apparently this is one question that really bugs her as she spends a lot of time asking everybody in the book about this. To me, the answer seems obvious: beggars at rock bottom can't be choosers. I guess Lindsay is slower than the average human being in this case. When I close this book, I'm not sure what actually went on between Lindsay and Noah, Lindsay and Jolie, and Lindsay and Viv. In fact, Lindsay and Noah hardly interact in this story, and when they do, it is in the company of the oh-so-wacky secondary characters doing oh-wow-wacky stuff. These main characters really need some quiet time to talk. I also need these people to talk so that I know what is going on.

Also, Lindsay is one of the dullest heroines I've ever come across. She's a rug made out of brown cow skin and sold at clearence price at Ikea. Jolie is way more interesting than her and I am actually wishing that Noah will end up with Jolie instead. But I guess it's some unwritten rule in romance novels that brown cow heroines always win at the end.

Readers that don't mind reading about relentless smalltown wackiness without caring as to why these wacky nonsense are happening in the first place will enjoy Return Engagement. It's a story where characters, settings, plot, and sometimes even coherence are sacrificed for small town bizarros acting silly. Me, I soon get really impatient with Ms Michaels' negligence in the characterization and plotting department, and this haphazard (and unfortunately, at over 400 pages, way too long) episode of plotless tomfoolery can't end fast enough for me.

Rating: 52

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